, Volume 84, Issue 3-4, pp 383-401
Date: 17 Mar 2007

The impact of climate change on the risk of forest and grassland fires in Australia

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Abstract

We explore the impact of future climate change on the risk of forest and grassland fires over Australia in January using a high resolution regional climate model, driven at the boundaries by data from a transitory coupled climate model. Two future emission scenarios (relatively high and relatively low) are used for 2050 and 2100 and four realizations for each time period and each emission scenario are run. Results show a consistent increase in regional-scale fire risk over Australia driven principally by warming and reductions in relative humidity in all simulations, under all emission scenarios and at all time periods. We calculate the probability density function for the fire risk for a single point in New South Wales and show that the probability of extreme fire risk increases by around 25% compared to the present day in 2050 under both relatively low and relatively high emissions, and that this increases by a further 20% under the relatively low emission scenario by 2100. The increase in the probability of extreme fire risk increases dramatically under the high emission scenario by 2100. Our results are broadly in-line with earlier analyses despite our use of a significantly different methodology and we therefore conclude that the likelihood of a significant increase in fire risk over Australia resulting from climate change is very high. While there is already substantial investment in fire-related management in Australia, our results indicate that this investment is likely to have to increase to maintain the present fire-related losses in Australia.