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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2019-441
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2019-441
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 25 Nov 2019

Submitted as: research article | 25 Nov 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Biogeosciences (BG).

A hydroclimatic model for the distribution of fire on Earth

Matthias M. Boer1, Víctor Resco De Dios2, Elisa Z. Stefaniak1, and Ross A. Bradstock3 Matthias M. Boer et al.
  • 1Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University, Richmond, Australia
  • 2Department of Crop and Forest Sciences-AGROTECNIO Center, Universitat de Lleida, E 25198 Lleida, Spain
  • 3Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia

Abstract. The distribution of fire on Earth has been monitored from space for several decades, yet the geography of global fire regimes has proven difficult to reproduce from interactions of climate, vegetation, terrain and land use by empirical and process-based fire models. Here, we propose a simple, yet robust, model for global fire potential based on fundamental biophysical constraints controlling fire activity in all biomes. In our top-down approach we ignored the dynamics of individual fires and focus on capturing hydroclimatic constraints on the production and (seasonal) desiccation of fuels to predict the potential mean annual fractional burned area, here estimated by the 0.99 percentile of the observed mean annual fractional burned area (F0.99). We show that 80 % of the global variation in F0.99 can be explained from a combination of mean annual precipitation and potential evapotranspiration. The proposed hydroclimatic model reproduced observed fire activity levels equally well across all biomes and provided the first objective underpinning for the dichotomy of global fire regimes in two domains characterised by either fuel production limitations on fire or fuel dryness limitations on fire. A sharp transition between the two climate-fire domains was found to occur at a mean annual aridity index of 1.9 (1.94 ± 0.02). Our model provides a simple but comprehensive basis for predicting fire potential under current and future climates, as well as an overarching framework for estimating effects of human activity via ignition regimes and manipulation of vegetation.

Matthias M. Boer et al.
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Short summary
Existing global fire models struggle to reproduce the geographical distribution of fire from interactions of climate, vegetation, terrain and land use. We present a new model for global fire potential based on fundamental biophysical constraints controlling fire activity in all biomes. Our global model predicts the potential mean annual fractional burned area as a function of hydroclimatic constraints on the production and (seasonal) desiccation of fuels.
Existing global fire models struggle to reproduce the geographical distribution of fire from...
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