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Predicting fire regime characteristics in space and time

  • University of California- Davis Davis, CA, 95616 United States (map)

Predicting fire regime characteristics in space and time

A lecture by

Dr. Sean Parks

Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute,
Rocky Mountain Research Station, US Forest Service

Part of the

2016 FERAL* Lecture Series

Sponsored by the California Fire Science Consortium and the

US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region Ecology Program


Date and time: March 10, 2016; 4:00-5:00 pm

Location: Room 3001, Plant and Environmental Sciences (PES) Building,

University of California-Davis



At broad spatial and temporal scales, fire regime characteristics are clearly influenced by climate (i.e., multi-decadal averages). Although this is often an indirect influence via climate’s influence on productivity and dominant vegetation type, correlations between climate and fire regime characteristics are increasingly being used to make predictions in space and time, the latter being highly relevant to climate change. In this presentation, I will highlight recent research conducted at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute aimed at predicting fire activity and severity in space and time. In one study, we developed a statistical model of area burned as a function of climate. We developed this model using climate and fire data from reference areas (e.g., wilderness) with low human influence; the relationship between climate and fire is stronger in these areas compared to more manipulated lands. Using this model, we made predictions of expected area burned over the entire western US, which we then compared to observed area burned. This comparison allowed a formal evaluation of departures in fire activity in the western US, and in doing so, we identified ecoregions experiencing a “fire deficit” and “fire surplus”. In a related study, we used similar data to build a statistical model of fire severity as a function of climate. We used this model, along datasets describing future climatic conditions, to make predictions of future fire severity for the western US. We compared these predictions to contemporary patterns to infer potential changes in fire severity under a changing climate. Our findings were somewhat surprising given the extreme fire behavior in observed recent years and may not be realized in an era of aggressive fire suppression.

*Forest Ecology Random Lectures

To schedule meetings with Dr. Parks, please contact Christina Restaino at