Recently Dr. Colin Price joined the Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences of Tel Aviv University. In continuation of his work at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York he will devote part of his time to studying the possible implications of future climate change on natural lightning-caused forest fires.
While at NASA, Colin Price developed an empirically-based model to predict the monthly frequency and area burned of lightning-caused fires in wilderness areas (Price and Rind, J. Clim., 1994). This simple model uses climate variables (precipitation and potential evaporation) together with information on thunderstorm frequencies to predict the monthly mean number of lightning-fires, together with the area burned by these fires in a certain wilderness area.
The simplistic climate/fire model was then placed into the NASA/GISS global climate model to estimate the possible implications of future global warming on natural fire frequencies. Not only did the drought conditions in the climate model increase dramatically as the model climate warmed (Rind et al., J. Geophys. Res., 1990), but the lightning frequencies in the model also increased dramatically (Price and Rind, J. Geophys. Res., 1994). Although the fire model and the global climate model have significant limitations in their quantitative predictive ability, the general trends of more lightning-produced fires in a warmer climate are believed to be fairly robust.
At present Dr. Price is working on improving the simplistic fire/climate model by using improved fire/lightning data available in Canada. Since the majority of lightning-fires presently occur in high latitude regions (boreal forest), the Canadian data will be extremely valuable in understanding how climate change will impact future fire frequencies.