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Increasing daily wildfire risk in the Acadian Forest Region of Nova Scotia, Canada, under future climate change

Abstract

A conceptual system dynamic model of the impact of future climate change on fire risk in the Nova Scotian Acadian Forest Region (NS AFR) was developed, clarifying the influence of positive and negative drivers of future fire risk. Weights of relative importance for seven wildfire risk drivers identified in the conceptual model were elicited through an analytical hierarchy process. Expert participants identified precipitation, temperature, and local tree species composition as the most important determinants of future fire risk. Fire weather variables collectively received a weight of relative importance of ~0.7/1. Downscaled projected climate normals of the IPCC 2.6, 4.5, and 8.5 relative concentration pathways (RCPs) were used to model daily fire weather indices of the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index System during the fire season in the NS AFR. Daily temperature during the modelled fire season increased significantly over time, as represented by climate normals periods. No significant increase or decrease in precipitation levels was identified. Indices of fuel moisture, fire behaviour, and potential fire intensity showed significant positive trends of drying and escalation of potential severity and intensity over time under all three RCPs (p < 0.05). Though significant, increases in potential fire weather intensity were moderate overall. Given the relative importance of fire weather as a driver of fire risk, and projected increasing potential for ignition and intensity of fire, we identify a moderate potential increase in fire risk in the NS AFR under climate change.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to acknowledge the HRM, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the Dalhousie University School for Resource and Environmental Studies for their funding of this project. Thanks to Richard MacLellan from the HRM Energy and Environment Office for his support of this research. James Steenberg, Peter Duinker, and Peter Bush supplied valued peer review, and John Ross and Dustin Oikle from the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources provided technical support. Thanks also to the anonymous reviewers who provided helpful critique of this piece and to Martin Girardin, Marc-André Parisien, and Daniel Thompson from the Canadian Forest Service for their involvement in and support of this study. Final thanks to all of our AHP weighting exercise participants.

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Correspondence to Ellen Whitman.

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Editor: Wolfgang Cramer.

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Whitman, E., Sherren, K. & Rapaport, E. Increasing daily wildfire risk in the Acadian Forest Region of Nova Scotia, Canada, under future climate change. Reg Environ Change 15, 1447–1459 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-014-0698-5

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Keywords

  • Acadian Forest Region
  • Analytical hierarchy process
  • Climate change
  • Fire weather
  • Systems modelling
  • Wildfire