Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Extreme Fires to Increase

Increasingly dangerous fire weather is forecast for Australia and the Mediterranean as the global footprint of extreme fires expands, according to a report published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

An international collaboration of researchers compiled a global satellite database of the intensity of 23 million landscape fires recorded between 2002 and 2013. Of these, the researchers honed in on 478 of the most extreme wildfire events.

“With the exception of land clearance, the research found that extremely intense fires are associated with anomalous weather – such as droughts, winds, or in desert regions, following particularly wet seasons,” said Prof David Bowman of The University of Tasmania.

“Of the top 478 events we identified 144 economically and socially disastrous extreme fire events that were concentrated in regions where humans have built into flammable forested landscapes, such as areas surrounding cities in southern Australia and western North America.”

Using climate change model projections to investigate the likely consequences of climate change, the research predicted more extreme fires for Australia’s east coast and the Mediterranean region spanning Portugal, Spain, France, Greece and Turkey. “The projections suggest an increase in the days conducive to extreme wildfire events by 20–50% in these disaster-prone landscapes, with sharper increases in the subtropical Southern Hemisphere and the European Mediterranean Basin,” Bowman said.