Fire in the Earth System

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Abstract

Fire is an important component of the Earth System that is tightly coupled with climate, vegetation, biogeochemical cycles, and human activities. Observations of how fire regimes change on seasonal to millennial timescales are providing an improved understanding of the hierarchy of controls on fire regimes. Climate is the principal control on fire regimes, although human activities have had an increasing influence on the distribution and incidence of fire in recent centuries. Understanding of the controls and variability of fire also underpins the development of models, both conceptual and numerical, that allow us to predict how future climate and land-use changes might influence fire regimes. Although fires in fire-adapted ecosystems can be important for biodiversity and ecosystem function, positive effects are being increasingly outweighed by losses of ecosystem services. As humans encroach further into the natural habitat of fire, social and economic costs are also escalating. The prospect of near-term rapid and large climate changes, and the escalating costs of large wildfires, necessitates a radical re-thinking and the development of approaches to fire management that promote the more harmonious co-existence of fire and people.