Response of simulated burned area to historical changes in environmental and anthropogenic factors: A comparison of seven fire models

Lina Teckentrup, Sandy P. Harrison, Stijn Hantson, Angelika Heil, Joe R. Melton, Matthew Forrest, Fang Li, Chao Yue, Almut Arneth, Thomas Hickler, Stephen Sitch, Gitta Lasslop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Understanding how fire regimes change over time is of major importance for understanding their future impact on the Earth system, including society. Large differences in simulated burned area between fire models show that there is substantial uncertainty associated with modelling global change impacts on fire regimes. We draw here on sensitivity simulations made by seven global dynamic vegetation models participating in the Fire Model Intercomparison Project (FireMIP) to understand how differences in models translate into differences in fire regime projections. The sensitivity experiments isolate the impact of the individual drivers on simulated burned area, which are prescribed in the simulations. Specifically these drivers are atmospheric CO2 concentration, population density, land-use change, lightning and climate. The seven models capture spatial patterns in burned area. However, they show considerable differences in the burned area trends since 1921. We analyse the trajectories of differences between the sensitivity and reference simulation to improve our understanding of what drives the global trends in burned area. Where it is possible, we link the inter-model differences to model assumptions. Overall, these analyses reveal that the largest uncertainties in simulating global historical burned area are related to the representation of anthropogenic ignitions and suppression and effects of land use on vegetation and fire. In line with previous studies this highlights the need to improve our understanding and model representation of the relationship between human activities and fire to improve our abilities to model fire within Earth system model applications. Only two models show a strong response to atmospheric CO2 concentration. The effects of changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration on fire are complex and quantitative information of how fuel loads and how flammability changes due to this factor is missing. The response to lightning on global scale is low. The response of burned area to climate is spatially heterogeneous and has a strong inter-annual variation. Climate is therefore likely more important than the other factors for short-term variations and extremes in burned area. This study provides a basis to understand the uncertainties in global fire modelling. Both improvements in process understanding and observational constraints reduce uncertainties in modelling burned area trends.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3883-3910
Number of pages28
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 9 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


Dive into the research topics of 'Response of simulated burned area to historical changes in environmental and anthropogenic factors: A comparison of seven fire models'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this