Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Rapid rise in wildfires in large parts of Canada? Ecologists find threshold values for natural wildfires

Date:
December 18, 2011
Source:
Helmholtz Centre For Environmental Research - UFZ
Summary:
Large forest regions in Canada are apparently about to experience rapid change. Based on models, scientists can now show that there are threshold values for wildfires just like there are for epidemics. Large areas of Canada are apparently approaching this threshold value and may in future exceed it due to climate change. As a result both the area burnt down annually and the average size of the fires would increase, researchers say.

A rapid rise in wildfires has been predicted for a large part of Canada.
Credit: © Evgeny Dubinchuk / Fotolia

Large forest regions in Canada are apparently about to experience rapid change. Based on models, scientists can now show that there are threshold values for wildfires just like there are for epidemics. Large areas of Canada are apparently approaching this threshold value and may in future exceed it due to climate change.

As a result both the area burnt down annually and the average size of the fires would increase, write the researchers of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the University of Michigan in the December issue of the journal The American Naturalist. The strategies for combating wildfires in large parts of Canada should therefore be reconsidered.

According to media reports, after weeks of drought around 1,000 hectares of forest and scrubland were burnt down in the West Canadian province British Columbia in the summer of 2009 alone. 11,000 people had to be evacuated. Are such events on the rise as a result of climate change? This question is being hotly debated by ecologists all over the world. In July a group of US researchers led by Anthony Westerling of the University of California forecasted similar changes in the journal PNAS. They believe that climate change might result in a dramatic increase in the threat of wildfires in Yellowstone National Park and that the forests might disappear here in the 21st century.

Fires are an important factor in many terrestrial ecosystems. They are a result of the interaction of the weather, vegetation and land use, which makes them very sensitive to global change. "Changes in the wildfire regime have a significant impact on a local and global scale and therefore on the climate as well. It is therefore important to understand how the mechanisms which shape these wildfires work in order to be able to make predictions on what will change in future," explains PD Dr. Volker Grimm of the UFZ.

For their model, the scientists evaluated data from the Canadian Forest Service, which had recorded fires greater than 200 hectares between 1959 and 1999, and sorted these by ecozone. This showed that three of these ecozones in Canada are close to a turning point: the Hudson Plains south of the Hudson Bay, the Boreale Plains in the Mid-West the Boreale Shield, which stretches from the Mid-West to the East coast and is therefore the largest ecozone in Canada. The closest to a turning point is apparently the Boreale Shield. In order to check their model and the theory of a threshold value for wildfires, the scientists looked at the fires in this region more closely. Around 1980 the average size of the fires in this part of the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba tripled rapidly. "In our opinion this is a sign that there are also threshold values for forests above which the wildfire regime drastically changes," reports Volker Grimm. "It is likely that the Boreale Plains have in recent decades, particularly around 1980, experienced a change to a system characterised by wildfires. This has fundamental repercussions for the environment and the combating of wildfires. Small changes in the fire propagation parameters have a great impact on the size of the fires." Gradual changes, such as those which can be expected due to climate change, can therefore result in an abrupt and sharp increase in the size of the fires.

The scientists were also interested in the parallels with disease propagation. Prevention strategies, which reduce combustible material, are in a way similar to the vaccinations which are used against the spread of diseases such as the measles. Here too there is a threshold value above which a disease spreads and below which it falls. Other modellers from the UFZ were therefore able to turn this theoretical threshold value into a practical value. With foxes it was shown that only 60 per cent had to be vaccinated against rabies in order to successfully combat the disease. The scientists therefore hope to find out more in future studies which cover both disciplines.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Helmholtz Centre For Environmental Research - UFZ. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Richard D. Zinck, Mercedes Pascual, Volker Grimm. Understanding Shifts in Wildfire Regimes as Emergent Threshold Phenomena. The American Naturalist, 2011; 178 (6): E149 DOI: 10.1086/662675

Cite This Page:

Helmholtz Centre For Environmental Research - UFZ. "Rapid rise in wildfires in large parts of Canada? Ecologists find threshold values for natural wildfires." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 December 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111216084215.htm>.
Helmholtz Centre For Environmental Research - UFZ. (2011, December 18). Rapid rise in wildfires in large parts of Canada? Ecologists find threshold values for natural wildfires. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111216084215.htm
Helmholtz Centre For Environmental Research - UFZ. "Rapid rise in wildfires in large parts of Canada? Ecologists find threshold values for natural wildfires." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111216084215.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

San Diego Zoo's White Rhinos Provide Hope for the Critically Endangered Species

San Diego Zoo's White Rhinos Provide Hope for the Critically Endangered Species

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 22, 2014) — The pair of rare white northern rhinos bring hope for their species as only six remain in the world. Elly Park reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Trick-or-Treating Banned Because of Polar Bears

Trick-or-Treating Banned Because of Polar Bears

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) — Mother Nature is pulling a trick on the kids of Arviat, Canada. As Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) tells us, the effects of global warming caused the town to ban trick-or-treating this Halloween. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) — He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Detroit's Money Woes Led To U.N.-Condemned Water Cutoffs

How Detroit's Money Woes Led To U.N.-Condemned Water Cutoffs

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) — The United Nations says water is a human right, but should it be free? Detroit has cut off water to residents who can't pay, and the U.N. isn't happy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins