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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Future Fire Probability Modeling with Climate Change Data and Physical Chemistry


Richard Guyette

Frank Thompson

Joanna Whittier

Michael Stambaugh

Daniel Dey

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Secondary Title:
Society of American Foresters


Climate has a primary influence on the occurrence and rate of combustion in ecosystems with carbon-based fuels such as forests and grasslands. Society will be confronted with the effects of climate change on fire in future forests. There are, however, few quantitative appraisals of how climate will affect wildland fire in the United States. We demonstrated a method for estimating changes in fire probability based on future climate simulations of temperature and precipitation. The probability of a fire occurring in a particular climate was extracted from the Physical Chemistry Fire Frequency Model (PC2FM) and represented the rate of change in fire due to climate. Climate output data from two global climate models (GCMs) were applied to the PC2FM to estimate changes in fire probability. We calculated change in fire frequency and probabilities from the difference between current and future climates and mapped climate-forced percentage change in fire probability under each GCM for the nation at a 1.2 km2 scale. Future fire probability estimates increased in cooler northern and high elevation regions but decreased slightly in some hotter and drier regions of the southwestern United States. Our approach's greatest strength may be reliance on only climate data and the simple principles of physical chemistry; many other nonclimatic factors that affect fire are often difficult to predict in the distant future.