January 9, 2019
Environment and Climate Change Canada scientists recently completed a study on the influence of human-induced climate change on British Columbia’s 2017 wildfire season.
Published in Earth’s Future, the study found that human influences on the climate played a major role in the extreme 2017 wildfire season and substantially increased the risk of wildfires. The area burned was seven to 11 times larger than would have been expected without human influences on the climate.
“As the climate continues to warm, we can expect that costly extreme wildfire seasons — like 2017, in B.C. — will become more likely in the future,” said Megan Kirchmeier-Young, research scientist, Environment and Climate Change Canada. “This will have increasing impacts on many sectors, including forest management, public health, and infrastructure.”
The study, led by research scientists from Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at the University of Victoria, used climate simulations to compare two scenarios: one with realistic amounts of human influence on the climate and one with minimal human influence. Researchers determined that the extreme summer temperatures during the 2017 British Columbia forest fire season were made over 20 times more likely by human-induced climate change. Extreme high temperatures combined with dry conditions increase the likelihood of wildfire ignition and spread.
Through their research, the scientists also concluded that human influences on climate change leading to extreme forest fires is a trend that is likely to intensify in the future, without further action.
The extreme 2017 forest fire season in British Columbia caused 65,000 people to be displaced from their homes, and millions were exposed to smoke-filled air harmful to human health. The 1.2 million hectares burned in 2017 set a record—only to be surpassed in 2018.