Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 165–177 | Cite as

Precipitation-driven decrease in wildfires in British Columbia

  • Andrea MeynEmail author
  • Sebastian Schmidtlein
  • Stephen W. Taylor
  • Martin P. Girardin
  • Kirsten Thonicke
  • Wolfgang Cramer
Original Article


Trends of summer precipitation and summer temperature and their influence on trends in summer drought and area burned in British Columbia (BC) were investigated for the period 1920–2000. The complexity imposed by topography was taken into account by incorporating high spatial resolution climate and fire data. Considerable regional variation in trends and in climate–fire relationships was observed. A weak but significant increase in summer temperature was detected in northeastern and coastal BC, whereas summer precipitation increased significantly in all regions—by up to 45.9 %. A significant decrease in province-wide area burned and at the level of sub-units was strongly related to increasing precipitation, more so than to changing temperature or drought severity. A stronger dependence of area burned on precipitation, a variable difficult to predict, implies that projected changes in future area burned in this region may yield higher uncertainties than in regions where temperature is predominantly the limiting factor for fire activity. We argue that analyses of fire–climate relationships must be undertaken at a sufficiently high resolution such that spatial variability in limiting factors on area burned like precipitation, temperature, and drought is captured within units.


Fire Aridity index Self-calibrating Palmer Drought Severity Index Regional climate change Summer temperature Summer precipitation Summer drought Trends 



A.M. thanks the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Stiftung der deutschen Wirtschaft (sdw) for grants. We thank Lucie A. Vincent for helpful comments on the manuscript, and Monique Kieran and Shelly Church for reviewing the manuscript.


  1. BC Ministry of Forests and Range (2006a) Provincial biogeoclimatic subzone/variant mapping, version 6. Research Branch, VictoriaGoogle Scholar
  2. BC Ministry of Forests and Range (2006b) Provincial biogeoclimatic subzone/variant mapping with generalized land cover, version 6. Research Branch, VictoriaGoogle Scholar
  3. Bergeron Y, Flannigan M, Gauthier S, Leduc A, Lefort P (2004) Past, current and future fire frequency in the Canadian boreal forest: implications for sustainable forest management. Ambio 33:356–360Google Scholar
  4. Christensen JH, Hewitson B, Busuioc A et al (2007) Regional climate projections. In: Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M et al. (eds) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, USAGoogle Scholar
  5. Dai A, Trenberth KE, Qian T (2004) A global dataset of Palmer Drought Severity Index for 1870–2002: relationship with soil moisture and effects of surface warming. J Hydrometeorol 5:1117–1130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Daly C, Kittel TGF, McNab A et al (2000), Development of a 103-year high-resolution climate data set for the conterminous United States. In: Proceedings of 12th AMS conference on applied climatology, Asheville, NC, 8–11 May. American Meteorological Society, pp 249–252Google Scholar
  7. Daly C, Gibson WP, Taylor GH, Johnson GL, Pasteris P (2002) A knowledge-based approach to the statistical mapping of climate. Clim Res 22:99–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dawdy DR, Matalas NC (1964) Statistical and probability analysis of hydrologic data. Part III: analysis of variance, covariance, and time series. In: Te Chow V (ed) Handbook of applied hydrology. A compendium of water resources technology. McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, pp 68–90Google Scholar
  9. Easterling DR, Karl TR, Gallo KP, Robinson DA, Trenberth KE, Dai AG (2000) Observed climate variability and change of relevance to the biosphere. J Geophys Res 105:20101–20114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Flannigan MD, Harrington JB (1988) A study of the relation of meteorological variables to monthly provincial area burned by wildfire in Canada (1953–80). J Appl Meteorol 27:441–452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gavin DG, Hallett DJ, Hu FS, Lertzman KP, Prichard SJ, Brown KJ, Lynch JA, Bartlein PJ, Peterson DL (2007) Forest fire and climate change in western North America: insights from sediment charcoal records. Frontiers Ecol Environ 5:499–506Google Scholar
  12. Girardin MP, Wotton BM (2009) Summer moisture and wildfire risks across Canada. J Appl Meteorol Climatol 48:517–533CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Girardin MP, Flannigan MD, Tardif JC, Bergeron Y (2009) Climate, weather, and forest fire. In: Gauthier S, Vaillancourt MA, Leduc A, De Grandpré L, Kneeshaw D, Morin H, Drapeau P, Bergeron Y (eds) Ecosystem management in the boreal forest. Presses de l’Université du Québec, Québec, p 392Google Scholar
  14. Guttman NB (1991) A sensitivity analysis of the Palmer Hydrologic Drought Index. Water Res Bull 27:797–807CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hamann A, Wang TL (2005) Models of climatic normals for genecology and climate change studies in British Columbia. Agric For Meteorol 128:211–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Isaac GA, Stuart RA (1992) Temperature precipitation relationships for Canadian stations. J Clim 5:822–830CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jiang Y, Zhuang Q, Flannigan M, Little J (2009) Characterization of wildfire regimes in Canadian boreal terrestrial ecosystems. Int J Wild Fire 18:992–1002CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kendall MG (1970) Rank correlation methods. Griffin London Publishing, LondonGoogle Scholar
  19. Lefort P, Gauthier S, Bergeron Y (2003) The influence of fire weather and land use on the fire activity of the Lake Abitibi area, eastern Canada. For Sci 49:509–521Google Scholar
  20. Luckman BH, Wilson RJS (2005) Summer temperatures in the Canadian Rockies during the last millennium: a revised record. Clim Dyn 24:131–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mann HB (1945) Nonparametric tests against trend. Econometrica 13:245–259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mbogga MS, Hamann A, Wang TL (2009) Historical and projected climate data for natural resource management in western Canada. Agric For Meteorol 149:881–890CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Meidinger D, Pojar J (1991) Ecosystems of British Columbia, BC Ministry of Forests, Research Branch, Special Report Series 6, Victoria, BC, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  24. Meyn A, Schmidtlein S, Taylor SW, Girardin MP, Thonicke K (2010a) Spatial variation of trends in wildfire and summer drought in British Columbia, Canada, 1920–2000. Int J Wildland Fire 19:272–283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Meyn A, Taylor SW, Flannigan MD, Thonicke K, Cramer W (2010b) Relationship between fire, climate oscillations and drought in British Columbia, Canada, 1920–2000. Glob Change Biol 16:977–989CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mitchell TD, Jones PD (2005) An improved method of constructing a database of monthly climate observations and associated high-resolution grids. Int J Climatol 25:693–712CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mote PW (2003) Trends in temperature and precipitation in the Pacific Northwest during the twentieth century. Northwest Sci 77:271–282Google Scholar
  28. Podur J, Martell DL, Knight K (2002) Statistical quality control analysis of forest fire activity in Canada. Can J For Res 32:195–205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Sen PK (1968) Estimates of the regression coefficient based on Kendall’s tau. J Am Stat Assoc 63:1379–1389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Stahl K, Moore RD, McKendry IG (2006) The role of synoptic-scale circulation in the linkage between large-scale ocean-atmosphere indices and winter surface climate in British Columbia, Canada. Int J Climatol 26:541–560CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Taylor SW, Thandi G (2003) Development and analysis of a provincial natural disturbance database. Pacific Forestry Centre, Natural Resources Canada, VictoriaGoogle Scholar
  32. Taylor SW, Carroll AL, Alfaro RI, Safranyik L (2006) Forest, climate and mountain pine beetle outbreak dynamics in western Canada. In: Safranyik L, Wilson WR (eds) The mountain pine beetle: a synthesis of biology, management, and impacts in lodgepole pine. Natural Resources Canada, pp 67–94Google Scholar
  33. Theil H (1950) A rank-invariant method of linear and polynomial regression analysis. Indag Math 12:85–91Google Scholar
  34. Thornthwaite CW (1948) An approach toward a rational classification of climate. Geogr Rev 38:55–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Trenberth KE, Shea DJ (2005) Relationships between precipitation and surface temperature. Geophys Res Lett 32:L14703CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Trenberth KE, Jones PD, Ambenje P et al (2007) Observations: surface and atmospheric climate change. In: Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M et al. (eds) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USAGoogle Scholar
  37. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (1992) World atlas of desertification. Edward Arnold, LondonGoogle Scholar
  38. Vincent LA, Mekis E (2009) Discontinuities due to joining precipitation station observations in Canada. J Appl Meteorol Climatol 48:156–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Vincent LA, van Wijngaarden WA, Hopkinson R (2007) Surface temperature and humidity trends in Canada for 1953–2005. J Clim 20:5100–5113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wang T, Hamann A, Spittlehouse DL, Aitken SN (2006) Development of scale-free climate data for western Canada for use in resource management. Int J Climatol 26:383–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Watson E, Luckman BH (2004) Tree-ring based reconstructions of precipitation for the southern Canadian Cordillera. Clim Change 65:209–241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wells N, Goddard S, Hayes MJ (2004) A self-calibrating palmer drought severity index. J Clim 17:2335–2351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wotton BM (2008) Interpreting and using outputs from the Canadian forest fire danger rating system in research applications. Environ Ecol Stat 16:107–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Zhang XB, Vincent LA, Hogg WD, Niitsoo A (2000) Temperature and precipitation trends in Canada during the 20th century. Atmos Ocean 38:395–429CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrea Meyn
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sebastian Schmidtlein
    • 2
  • Stephen W. Taylor
    • 3
  • Martin P. Girardin
    • 4
  • Kirsten Thonicke
    • 1
  • Wolfgang Cramer
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.Earth System AnalysisPotsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) e.V.PotsdamGermany
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of BonnBonnGermany
  3. 3.Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest ServicePacific Forestry CentreVictoriaCanada
  4. 4.Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest ServiceLaurentian Forestry CentreQuebecCanada
  5. 5.Institut Méditerranéen de Biodiversité et d’Ecologie marine et continentale (IMBE)UMR CNRS 7263/IRD 237Aix-en-ProvenceFrance

Personalised recommendations