Climate change and the future occurrence of moorland wildfires in the Peak District of the UK

Kevin Albertson, Jonathan Aylen, Gina Cavan, Julia McMorrow

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Abstract

We investigated the impact of climate change on the number of wildfires in the Peak District uplands of northern England. Wildfires in peat can result in severe carbon loss and damage to water supplies, and fighting such fires is difficult and costly in such a remote location. The Peak District is expected to experience warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers. Local weather simulations from a weather generator were used to predict the future incidence and timing of fires. Wildfire predictions were based on past fire occurrence and weather over 27.5 yr. A Probit model of wildfire incidence was applied to simulated weather data, which were generated by a Markov process and validated against actual baseline weather data using statistical criteria and success in replicating past fire patterns. The impact of climate change on the phenology and ecology of moorland and on visitor numbers was considered. Simulations suggest an overall increase in occurrence of summer wildfires. The likelihood of spring wildfires is not reduced by wetter winter conditions; however, the chance of wildfires rises as rainfall decreases. Temperature rise has a non-linear impact, with the risk of wildfire occurrence rising disproportionately with temperature. Recreation use is a major source of ignition. Little change in wildfire incidence is projected in the near future, but as climate change intensifies, the danger of summer wildfires is projected to increase from 2070; therefore, fire risk management will be necessary in future. In addition, moorlands may have to be managed to reduce the chance of summer wildfires becoming catastrophic, with consequent damage to ecosystem services such as water supplies and peat carbon storage. Management measures may include controlled burning, grazing or mowing to remove fuel. © Inter-Research 2010.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-118
Number of pages13
JournalClimate Research
Volume45
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Drought
  • Ecosystem services
  • Forecast
  • Peatland
  • Plant phenology
  • Probit
  • Weather simulations
  • Wildfires

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