03 Apr 2023
 | 03 Apr 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

The response of wildfire regimes to Last Glacial Maximum carbon dioxide and climate

Olivia Haas, Iain Colin Prentice, and Sandy P. Harrison

Abstract. Climate and fuel availability jointly control the incidence of wildfires. The effects of atmospheric CO2 on plant growth influence fuel availability independently of climate; but the relative importance of each in driving large-scale changes in wildfire regimes cannot easily be quantified from observations alone. Here, we use previously developed empirical models to simulate the global spatial pattern of burnt area, fire size and fire intensity for modern and Last Glacial Maximum (LGM; ~ 21,000 ka) conditions using both realistic changes in climate and CO2 and sensitivity experiments to separate their effects. Three different LGM scenarios are used to represent the range of modelled LGM climates. We show large, modelled reductions in burnt area at the LGM compared to the recent period, consistent with the sedimentary charcoal record. This reduction was predominantly driven by the effect of low CO2 on vegetation productivity. The amplitude of the reduction under low CO2 conditions was similar regardless of the LGM climate scenario and was not observed in any LGM scenario when only climate effects were considered, with one LGM climate scenario showing increased burning under these conditions. Fire intensity showed a similar sensitivity to CO2 across different climates but was also sensitive to changes in vapour pressure deficit (VPD). Modelled fire size was reduced under LGM CO2 in many regions but increased under LGM climates because of changes in wind strength, dryness (DD) and diurnal temperature range (DTR). This increase was offset under the coldest LGM climate in the northern latitudes because of a large reduction in VPD. These results emphasis the fact that the relative magnitudes of changes in different climate variables influence the wildfire regime and that different aspects of climate change can have opposing effects. The importance of CO2 effects imply that future projections of wildfire must take rising CO2 into account.

Olivia Haas et al.

Status: open (until 20 Jun 2023)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-506', Anonymous Referee #1, 11 May 2023 reply
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Olivia Haas, 17 May 2023 reply

Olivia Haas et al.


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Short summary
We quantify the impact of CO2 and climate on global patterns of burnt area, fire size and intensity under Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) conditions, using three climate scenarios. Climate change alone did not produce the observed LGM reduction in burnt area, but low CO2 did through reducing vegetation productivity. Fire intensity was sensitive to CO2 but strongly affected by changes in atmospheric dryness. Low CO2 caused smaller fires; climate had the opposite effect except in the driest scenario.