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Human impact on wildfires varies between regions and with vegetation productivity

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Lasslop,  Gitta
Emmy Noether Junior Research Group Fire in the Earth System, The Land in the Earth System, MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;

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Kloster,  Silvia
Emmy Noether Junior Research Group Fire in the Earth System, The Land in the Earth System, MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;

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Lasslop, G., & Kloster, S. (2017). Human impact on wildfires varies between regions and with vegetation productivity. Environmental Research Letters, 12: 115011. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aa8c82.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002D-F6A7-4
Abstract
We assess the influence of humans on burned area simulated with a dynamic global vegetation model. The human impact in the model is based on population density and cropland fraction, which were identified as important drivers of burned area in analyses of global datasets, and are commonly used in global models. After an evaluation of the sensitivity to these two variables we extend the model by including an additional effect of the cropland fraction on the fire duration. The general pattern of human influence is similar in both model versions: the strongest human impact is found in regions with intermediate productivity, where fire occurrence is not limited by fuel load or climatic conditions. Human effects in the model increases burned area in the tropics, while in temperate regions burned area is reduced. While the population density is similar on average for the tropical and temperate regions, the cropland fraction is higher in temperate regions, and leads to a strong suppression of fire. The model shows a low human impact in the boreal region, where both population density and cropland fraction is very low and the climatic conditions, as well as the vegetation productivity limit fire. Previous studies attributed a decrease in fire activity found in global charcoal datasets to human activity. This is confirmed by our simulations, which only show a decrease in burned area when the human influence on fire is accounted for, and not with only natural effects on fires. We assess how the vegetation–fire feedback influences the results, by comparing simulations with dynamic vegetation biogeography to simulations with prescribed vegetation. The vegetation–fire feedback increases the human impact on burned area by 10% for present day conditions. These results emphasize that projections of burned area need to account for the interactions between fire, climate, vegetation and humans.