New Research Explores the Changing Role of Thunderstorms and Lightning in Boreal Wildfires

NASA Earth Observatory maps and charts by Jesse Allen, using data provided by Sander Veraverbeke (Vrije Universiteit).

New research examines the changing role of thunderstorms and lightning strikes on the boreal forest wildfire regime. A team supported by NASA and led by Sander Veraverbeke (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and University of California, Irvine) analyzed satellite data and other lightning data sources to try to understand the 2014 and 2015 wildfire seasons.

The team found that the majority of fires in their study areas in 2014 and 2015 were ignited by lightning storms, as opposed to human activity. That is natural, given the remoteness of the region, but it also points to more frequent lightning strikes in an area not known for as many thunderstorms as the tropics or temperate regions. Looking at longer trends, the researchers found that lightning-ignited fires in the region have been increasing by 2 to 5 percent per year since 1975, a trend that is consistent with climate change. The study was published in July 2017 in the journal Nature Climate Change.
“We found that it is not just a matter of more burning with higher temperatures. The reality is more complex,” Veraverbeke said. “Higher temperatures also spur more thunderstorms. Lightning from these thunderstorms is what has been igniting many more fires in these recent extreme events.”

Read more at NASA’s website:

The full paper was published in Nature:

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