University Of Tasmania

File(s) under permanent embargo

Global increase in wildfire risk due to climate-driven declines in fuel moisture

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 04:36 authored by Todd EllisTodd Ellis, David BowmanDavid Bowman, Jain, P, Flannigan, MD, Grant WilliamsonGrant Williamson
There is mounting concern that global wildfire activity is shifting in frequency, intensity, and seasonality in response to climate change. Fuel moisture provides a powerful means of detecting changing fire potential. Here, we use global burned area, weather reanalysis data, and the Canadian fire weather index system to calculate fuel moisture trends for multiscale biogeographic regions across a gradient in vegetation productivity. We quantify the proportion of days in the local fire season between 1979 and 2019, where fuel moisture content is below a critical threshold indicating extreme fire potential. We then associate fuel moisture trends over that period to vegetation productivity and comment on its implications for projected anthropogenic climate change. Overall, there is a strong drying trend across realms, biomes, and the productivity gradient. Even where a wetting trend is observed, this often indicates a trend toward increasing fire activity due to an expected increase in fuel production. The detected trends across the productivity gradient lead us to conclude global fire activity will increase with anthropogenic climate change.


NSW Office of Environment & Heritage


Publication title

Global Change Biology

Article number









School of Natural Sciences


Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Place of publication

9600 Garsington Rd, Oxford, England, Oxon, Ox4 2Dg

Rights statement

© 2021 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Ecosystem adaptation to climate change; Climatological hazards (e.g. extreme temperatures, drought and wildfires)