Warmer and drier conditions in coming decades will likely cause the burned area from wildfires in the U.S. to double in size by 2050, according to new research based on satellite observations and computer modeling experiments. The research, which was first presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco on Dec. 4, provides insight into both recent wildfire trends and the sharp increase in dryness — and therefore wildfire susceptibility — in certain regions of the country.
A visualization of cumulative fires from Jan. 1 through Oct. 31, 2012, detected by the MODIS instrument on board the Terra and Aqua satellites. Bright yellow shows areas that are more intense and have a larger area that is actively burning, flaming and/or smoldering.
The 2012 U.S. wildfire season was one of the worst on record, with massive fires affecting Colorado and New Mexico, in particular. The new research suggests that high wildfire years, such as 2012, would likely occur 2-to-4 times per decade by 2050, rather than once per decade as they do now.