Forest fire danger extremes in Europe under climate change: variability and uncertainty
Forests cover over a third of the total land area of Europe. In recent years, large forest fires have repeatedly affected Europe, in particular the Mediterranean countries. In this work, the emphasis is on the direct influence on fire danger of weather and climate.
Fires in Europe: Overview
Forests cover about 215 million ha in Europe and an additional 36 million ha are covered by other wooded lands; this is over a third of the total land area.
In recent years, large forest fires have repeatedly affected Europe, in particular the Mediterranean countries. In 2010 alone, wildfires were responsible for the damage of 0.5 mil- lion ha in the forests over the European continent. In the current year 2017, in November the cumulated annual burnt area of Portugal, Spain, and Italy alone exceeded 0.8 million ha.
Climate Change and Forest Fires
Forests stressed by drought may be more vulnerable to insect attack, which in turn leads to large numbers of dead trees that are susceptible to fire. Temperature and drought stress have been correlated at regional scale with both abiotic and biotic disturbances (damage by wildfire and bark-beetle attacks. Under climate change, the hazard will become higher than present, which means adaptation strategies are needed to avoid an increase in the devastating effects of forest fires on ecosystem functioning and biodiversity.
Whilst there is some uncertainty in the magnitude of the effect of climate change, it is clear that the danger of forest fires driven by weather increases with climate change around the Mediterranean. The three countries with the highest danger are Spain, Portugal and Turkey. Greece, part of central and southern Italy, Mediterranean France, and the coastal region of the Balkans also show an increasing danger both in relative and absolute terms.
Areas at moderate danger from forest fires are pushed north by climate change, up to central Europe. There is relatively little change in fire danger as directly driven by weather due to climate change across northern Europe.
Source: de Rigo, D., Libertà, G., Houston Durrant, T., Artés Vivancos, T., San-Miguel-Ayanz, J.,
Forest fire danger extremes in Europe under climate change: variability and uncertainty,
EUR 28926 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2017, ISBN: 978-92-79-77046-3, doi:10.2760/13180, JRC108974