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Forest Disturbance Processes

A Study of Climate Change and Land-Use Change Impacts on Fire Weather and Fire Behavior in the Eastern U.S. Using Regional Climate Models

[image:] Arttwork for the Eastern Area Modeling ConsortiumResearch Issue

Studies of the effects of climate change  on forests have focused mainly on projected changes in temperature and precipitation, and some attention  to the effects of drought.  Relatively few studies have focused on the potential effects of future climate change and land-use change on future forest fire occurrence, fire danger, and fire behavior, despite the fact that fire has been recognized as one of the dominant disturbances in forests of the United States.  The development of effective long-term fire management strategies for our forests and natural resources under a changing climate can be aided with an improved understanding of how changes in regional climate conditions and land-use patterns could potentially affect  fire danger and behavior in the future.

Our Research

[image:] Predicted changes (contours) in the average length (days) of fire-weather events in the U.S. having Haines Index values greater than or equal to 5 (an indication of potential extreme fire behavior) between projected future climate conditions and observed current climate conditions based on coupled global and regional climate simulations.  Color shading indicates changes in standard deviation.Northern Research Station scientists are collaborating with researchers at Michigan State University to analyze regional climate change projections obtained from the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program (NARCCAP) and assess where changing climate conditions in different regions of the U.S. could result in fire-weather conditions more conducive to extreme or erratic fire behavior.  Subsequent analyses will focus on land-use change impacts. The research objectives for this study include

  • Using NARCCAP regional climate data, assess climatically induced changes in the frequency of weather conditions associated with severe wildland fires in the eastern U.S.
  • Linking NARCCAP regional climate model projections to an appropriate fire behavior model to assess climate change impacts on fire behavior through changes in atmospheric moisture, air temperature, and wind speed, which all influence fuel moisture conditions.
  • Developing appropriate future land-use/land-cover datasets for the eastern U.S. that can be incorporated into regional climate models (RCMs) for simulating the effects of land-use/land-cover changes on the climate system.
  • Using an RCM driven by general circulation model output for the current and future climate and the future land-use/land-cover datasets developed in the previous objective, assessing the concurrent effects of climate change and land-use/land-cover change on the frequency of weather conditions associated with severe wildland fires in the eastern U.S.

Expected Outcomes

The results of this study will improve our current understanding of how potential changes in regional climate conditions brought on by a doubled CO2 environment and by land-use/land-cover changes affect fire-weather and fire behavior in the eastern U.S.  The results will inform fire managers and policymakers on the potential effects that climate and land-use change may have on the frequency of large and more extreme fires in the eastern U.S. because of more conducive fire-weather and fuel conditions.

Research Results

Heilman, W. E., Y. Tang, L. Luo, S. Zhong, J. A. Winkler, and X. Bian.  2015.  Potential climate change impacts on fire weather in the United States.  Fire Management Today 74:22-27.

Yu, L., S. Zhong, X. Bian, and W. E. Heilman.  2015.  Temporal and spatial variability of wind resources in the United States as derived from the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis.  Journal of Climate 28:1166-1183.

Tang, Ying; Zhong, Shiyuan; Luo, Lifeng; Bian, Xindi; Heilman, Warren E.; Winkler, Julie. 2015. The potential impact of regional climate change on fire weather in the United States. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 105(1): 1-21.

Pei, L., N. Moore, S. Zhong, L. Luo, D. W. Hyndman, W. E. Heilman, and Z. Gao.  2014.  WRF model sensitivity to land surface scheme and cumulus parameterization under short-term climate extremes over the southern Great Plains of the United States.  Journal of Climate 27:7703-7724.

Yu, L., S. Zhong, X. Bian, W. E. Heilman, and J. A. Andresen.  2014.  Temporal and spatial variability of frost-free seasons in the Great Lakes region of the United States.  International Journal of Climatology, doi: 10.1002/joc.3923.

McKenzie, D., U. Shankar, R. E. Keane, E. N. Stavros, W. E. Heilman, D. G. Fox, and A. C. Riebau.  2014.  Smoke consequences of new wildfire regimes driven by climate change.  Earth’s Future, 2, doi:10.1002/2013EF000180.

Liu, Y., S. Goodrick, and W. E. Heilman.  2014.  Wildland fire emissions, carbon and climate: Wildfire-climate interactions.  Forest Ecology and Management 317:80-96.

Heilman, W. E., Y. Liu, S. Urbanski, V. Kovalev, and R. Mickler.  2014.  Wildland fire emissions, carbon, and climate: Plume rise, atmospheric transport, and chemistry processes.  Forest Ecology and Management 317:70-79.

Luo, Lifeng; Tang, Ying; Zhong, Shiyuan; Bian, Xindi; Heilman, Warren E.  2013.  Will future climate favor more erratic wildfires in the western United States?  Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology. 52(11): 2410-2417.

Yu, Lejiang; Zhong, Shiyuan; Bian, Xindi; Heilman, Warren E.; Charney, Joseph J.  2013.  The interannual variability of the Haines Index over North America.  Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 52:2396-2409.

Zhong, Shiyuan; Li, Xiuping; Bian, Xindi; Heilman, Warren E.; Leung, L. Ruby; Gustafson, William I. Jr.  2012.  Evaluation of regional climate simulations over the Great Lakes region driven by three global data sets.  Journal of Great Lakes Research 38:212-225.

Research Participants

  • Sharon Zhong, Department of Geography, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
  • Lifeng Luo, Department of Geography, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
  • Lejiang Yu, Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology, Nanjing, China and Department of Geography, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
  • Ying Tang, Department of Geography, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
  • Warren E. Heilman, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Lansing, MI
  • Xindi Bian, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Lansing, MI
  • Lisi Pei, Department of Geography, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Last Modified: February 22, 2016