Determining the sensitivity of eastern US fire regimes to climate change

SUMMARY: Wildland fire is both an indicator and a driver of environmental change. In the western United States, climate effects on fire regimes have been well established, highlighting concerns that climate change can radically and rapidly alter ecosystems. In the East, climate-fire relationships are far from clear. EFETAC scientists are working to better understand fire across the landscape to help land managers effectively restore fire-dependent ecosystems and address future risks.

EFETAC'S ROLE: This project is supported by EFETAC research.

STATUS: Ongoing

PROGRESS: Researchers are assembling historical wildland fire data from various state and federal agencies for the eastern United States into a quality-controlled database and modeling fire regimes based on informational record quality, cause, land cover, seasonal vegetation attributes, and climate. Results indicate that the eastern fire season is sensitive to annual variation in regional climate, global sea surface temperatures, and timing of spring leaf green-up and autumn leaf loss. This suggests that in the future, eastern fire regimes may not only respond to summer drought stress or growing season length in addition to human influences such as ignition behavior and land cover change, but also to changes in the onset and duration of the open-canopied spring and fall fire seasons. Despite the complexity of eastern fire regimes, this research can support social and forest management actions to mitigate climate change impacts.

CONTACT: Steve Norman, EFETAC Research Ecologist, or (828) 259-0535

Updated January 2013 

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