Research Seminar

Are recent extreme fire seasons in BC attributable to human-induced climate change?

Nathan Gillett, Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, Climate Research Division, ECCC.

Megan Kirchmeier-Young Climate Data and Analysis Section, Climate Research Division, ECCC.

When: November 21, 2018 from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm

Where: Blusson Hall 10011 - SFU Burnaby Campus

A record 1.2 million hectares burned in British Columbia's extreme wild fire season of 2017, a record which was broken in 2018, when 1.3 million hectares burned. Both fire seasons had major impacts on air quality, forest management and infrastructure across the province. Key factors in the unprecedented event of 2017 were the extreme warm and dry conditions that prevailed at the time. Using an event attribution method and a large ensemble of regional climate model simulations, we show that the risk factors affecting the event, and the area burned itself, were made substantially greater by anthropogenic climate change, with the observed maximum temperature anomalies made over 20 times more likely and the event's high fire weather metrics made 2-4 times more likely. Using a regression model to represent area burned under the assumption of stationary non-climatic drivers, we find that anthropogenic climate change increased the area burned by a factor of 7-11 in 2017. A preliminary analysis of the 2018 fire season also indicates a substantial influence of anthropogenic climate change. Our results confirm previous projections that such extreme fire seasons will become much more frequent in the future, with implications for forest management and climate change adaptation.

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This event is brought to you by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, Climate Futures Initiative and SFU's Faculty of Environment.

Speaker Bio

Nathan Gillett, Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, Climate Research Division, Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Nathan Gillett holds a PhD in atmospheric physics from the University of Oxford. After his doctorate, Nathan worked as a post-doc at the University of Victoria on the detection and attribution of climate change, before being appointed as a lecturer then reader at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in the UK. In 2008, Nathan returned to Canada to work as a research scientist at the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis (CCCma), where he subsequently served as manager from 2014 to 2018. His primary research interests are in detection and attribution of climate change, and the influence of stratospheric ozone depletion on climate. He served as a Lead Author of the IPCC Fourth and Fifth Assessment Reports and of the 2014 WMO/UNEP Ozone Assessment, and is a Convening Lead Author of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report. He is an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University and a member of the executive committee of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS).