Sustainability Climate Change

Southern California wildfires expected to increase in frequency by end of century, study says

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Story at a glance

  • Wildfires in Southern California are expected to increase significantly by the end of the century.
  • Researchers used low resolution climate models to estimate future regional conditions, while evaluating long-term projections of climate factors that lead to more wildfires.
  • The study suggests without drastic changes targeting a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the number of days with a high risk of wildfires increases substantially.

Wildfires in Southern California are expected to grow significantly by the end of the century given a projected increase in global temperatures due to climate change.  

A new study led by University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers analyzing data dating back to 1975 found that there has not been a significant increase in the amount of area burned in Southern California in around four decades.  

But the study suggests without drastic changes targeting a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the number of days with a high risk of wildfires increases substantially. A 9 degree Fahrenheit rise in the average temperature throughout the region by 2100 could lead to 58 more days with a high risk of wildfire.  

A more modest increase of 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit could increase high-risk days by 60 percent per year by the end of the century. 

Researchers used low resolution climate models to estimate future regional conditions while evaluating long-term projections of climate factors that lead to more wildfires. Yet researchers noted fire-causing conditions are different between the northern and southern part of the state with more potential for human ignition in the south. 


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UCLA climate scientist Glen MacDonald concluded that wildfire risk will be heightened near the beginning and the end of current wildfire seasons.  

“I look at our data and think, ‘The probability of having one of those big fire events is increasing year by year as we dump more carbon dioxide into the environment,’” MacDonald said in a press release. “That’s not theoretical; that’s stressing me out in the autumn and the early winter.” 

The study’s lead author Chunyu Dong said curbing emissions is vital as “carbon dioxide can stay in the environment for a long time.”  

“It will be too late when Southern California is struggling to battle with the endless fires,” Dong said.  


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