Wildfires are expected to become increasingly common across the US and Europe over the next 30 years as climate change raises temperatures.
While increased rainfall means that fires could actually decrease around equatorial regions, particularly among the tropical rainforests, big rises are epxcted elsewhere.
"In the long run, we found what most fear — increasing fire activity across large parts of the planet," says Max Moritz of UC Berkeley. "But the speed and extent to which some of these changes may happen is surprising."
The team combined a decade's-worth of satellite-based fire records with historical climate observations and simulations of future change. They then used these relationships to simulate how future climate change would affect future fire activity.
"Most of the previous wildfire projection studies focused on specific regions of the world, or relied upon only a handful of climate models," says Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University.
"Our study is unique in that we build a forecast for fire based upon consistent projections across 16 different climate models combined with satellite data, which gives a global perspective on recent fire patterns and their relationship to climate.”
The team found that the greatest disagreements among climate models are seen over the next few decades. However, there was stronger agreement over some areas, such as the western United States, implying that these regions should brace themselves for more fires.
"When many different models paint the same picture, that gives us confidence that the results of our study reflect a robust fire frequency projection for that region," says Hayhoe.
"What is clear is that the choices we are making as a society right now and in the next few decades will determine what Earth’s climate will look like over this century and beyond."