Articles | Volume 15, issue 17
Research article
08 Sep 2015
Research article |  | 08 Sep 2015

Impact of 2050 climate change on North American wildfire: consequences for ozone air quality

X. Yue, L. J. Mickley, J. A. Logan, R. C. Hudman, M. V. Martin, and R. M. Yantosca

Abstract. We estimate future area burned in the Alaskan and Canadian forest by the mid-century (2046–2065) based on the simulated meteorology from 13 climate models under the A1B scenario. We develop ecoregion-dependent regressions using observed relationships between annual total area burned and a suite of meteorological variables and fire weather indices, and apply these regressions to the simulated meteorology. We find that for Alaska and western Canada, almost all models predict significant (p < 0.05) increases in area burned at the mid-century, with median values ranging from 150 to 390 %, depending on the ecoregion. Such changes are attributed to the higher surface air temperatures and 500 hPa geopotential heights relative to present day, which together lead to favorable conditions for wildfire spread. Elsewhere the model predictions are not as robust. For the central and southern Canadian ecoregions, the models predict increases in area burned of 45–90 %. Except for the Taiga Plain, where area burned decreases by 50 %, no robust trends are found in northern Canada, due to the competing effects of hotter weather and wetter conditions there. Using the GEOS-Chem chemical transport model, we find that changes in wildfire emissions alone increase mean summertime surface ozone levels by 5 ppbv for Alaska, 3 ppbv for Canada, and 1 ppbv for the western US by the mid-century. In the northwestern US states, local wildfire emissions at the mid-century enhance surface ozone by an average of 1 ppbv, while transport of boreal fire pollution further degrades ozone air quality by an additional 0.5 ppbv. The projected changes in wildfire activity increase daily summertime surface ozone above the 95th percentile by 1 ppbv in the northwestern US, 5 ppbv in the high latitudes of Canada, and 15 ppbv in Alaska, suggesting a greater frequency of pollution episodes in the future atmosphere.

Short summary
Based on simulated meteorology from 13 GCMs, we projected future wildfire activity in Alaskan and Canadian ecoregions by the mid-century. The most robust change is the increase of 150-390% in area burned over Alaska and western Canada. The models also predict an increase of 45-90% in the central and southern Canadian ecoregions, but a decrease of up to 50% in northern Canada. We further quantify how the changes in wildfire emissions may affect ozone concentrations in North America.
Final-revised paper