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Simulated Future Shifts in Wildfire Regimes in Moist Forests of Pacific Northwest, USA

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Fire is an integral natural disturbance in the moist temperate forests of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, but future changes remain uncertain. Fire regimes in this climatically and biophysically diverse region are complex, but typically climate limited. One challenge for interpreting potential changes is conveying projection uncertainty. Using projections of Energy Release Component (ERC) derived from 12 global climate models (GCM) that vary in performance relative to the region's contemporary climate, we simulated thousands of plausible fire seasons with the stochastic spatial fire spread model FSim for mid-21st century (2035–2064) under RCP8.5 emissions scenario for five northwestern pyromes. The magnitude of projected changes to burn probability, fire size, and number of fires varied among pyromes and GCMs. We projected the largest increases in burn probability and fire size in the cooler and wetter northern parts of the region (North Cascades, Olympics & Puget Lowlands) and Oregon West Cascades, with more moderate changes projected for the Washington West Cascades and Oregon Coast Range. We provide new insights into changing fire regimes characterized by the possibility of shifts toward more frequent and large fires (especially >40,000 ha), as well as shifts in seasonality, including more fires burning at the beginning of fall when extreme synoptic weather events have the potential to increase fire spread. Our work highlights the potential geographic variability in climate change effects in some of the most productive moist temperate forests of the world and points to a rapid acceleration of fire in the coming decades.

Alex W. Dye, Matt J. Reilly, Andy McEvoy, Rebecca Lemons, Karin L. Riley, John B. Kim, Becky K. Kerns

Dye, A. W., Reilly, M. J., McEvoy, A., Lemons, R., Riley, K. L., Kim, J. B., & Kerns, B. K. (2024). Simulated future shifts in wildfire regimes in moist forests of Pacific Northwest, USA. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 129, e2023JG007722. https://doi. org/10.1029/2023JG007722

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