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The effect of climate change on indicators of fire danger in the UK

Arnell, N. ORCID:, Freeman, A. and Gazzard, R. (2021) The effect of climate change on indicators of fire danger in the UK. Environmental Research Letters, 16 (4). 044027. ISSN 1748-9326

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/abd9f2


The UK is vulnerable to wildfire, and vulnerability is likely to increase due to climate change. Whilst the risk is small compared with many other countries, recent fires have raised awareness and highlighted the potential for environmental damage and loss of property and key infrastructure. Most UK wildfires are a result of inadvertent or deliberate human action, but the environmental conditions depend on antecedent and current weather. This paper presents projections of the effects of climate change on UK wildfire danger, using a version of an operational fire danger model, UKCP18 climate projections representing low and high emissions, and several indicators of fire danger. Fire danger will increase across the whole of the UK, but the extent and variability in change varies with indicator. The absolute danger now and into the future is greatest in the south and east (the average number of danger days increases 3-4 times by the 2080s), but danger increases further north from a lower base. The variation in change across the UK for indicators based on absolute thresholds is determined by how often those thresholds are exceeded now, whilst the (lesser) variability in percentile-based indicators reflects variability in the projected change in climate. Half of the increase in danger is due to increased temperature, and most of the rest is due to projected reductions in relative humidity. Uncertainty in the magnitude of the change is due to uncertainty in changes in temperature, relative humidity, and rainfall, and there is a large difference between two of the UKCP18 climate model ensembles. Reducing emissions to levels consistent with achieving international climate policy targets significantly reduces, but does not eliminate, the increase in fire danger. The results imply that greater attention needs to be given to wildfire danger in both emergency and spatial planning, and in the development of guidelines for activities that may trigger fires. They suggest the need for the development of a fire danger system more tailored to UK conditions, and the combination of fire danger modelling with projections of sources of ignition to better estimate the change in wildfire risk.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IDRCs) > Walker Institute
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:96625
Publisher:Institute of Physics


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