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The association between Northern Hemisphere climate patterns and interannual variability in Canadian wildfire activity

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Wildfire impacts on ecological and socioeconomic systems are regulated, in part, by climate. Association between hemispheric-scale climate patterns and annual wildfire activity can be obscured by local factors that also control the initiation and spread of fires. Vegetation, topography, and fire suppression can be expected to influence conventional measures of annual wildfire activity such as area burned, effectively concealing evidence of broad-scale climate influences. This study investigates alternatives to area-burned statistics for quantifying annual wildfire activity in Canada in relation to Northern Hemisphere climate variability represented by the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). We depart from conventional approaches by including socioeconomic measures of wildfire activity and by assessing spatially referenced wildfire data over units of observation chosen explicitly to diminish variability caused by factors unrelated to broad-scale climate. Our data-centred approach, combined with linear regression modelling, revealed that the AMO was positively correlated with national time series of very large fires (≥10 000 ha), wildfire-related evacuations, and fire suppression expenditures over the period 1975–2007. The AMO and wildfire activity were most closely coupled during a period of predominantly positive-phase Arctic Oscillation (AO) and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) between 1989 and 2001. Positive correlation between maximum evacuation wind speed and the AMO suggests that wind may be a causal factor in the AMO–wildfire relationship.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Canadian Forest Service, Northern Forestry Centre, 5320-122 Street, Edmonton, AB T6H 3S5, Canada. 2: B.J. Stocks Wildfire Investigations Ltd., 128 Chambers Avenue, Sault Ste. Marie, ON P6A 4V4, Canada.

Publication date: November 1, 2011

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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