Surging Wildfire Activity in a Grassland Biome

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Rapid changes in wildfire patterns are documented globally, increasing pressure to identify regions that may experience increases in wildfire in future decades. Temperate grassland and savanna biomes were some of the most frequently burned regions on Earth; however, large wildfires have been largely absent from the Great Plains of North America over the last century. In this paper, we conduct an in-depth analysis of changes in large wildfire (>400 ha) regime characteristics over a 30 year period across the Great Plains. For the entire biome, (i) the average number of large wildfires increased from 33.4 ± 5.6 per year from 1985 to 1994 to 116.8 ± 28.8 wildfires per year from 2005 to 2014, (ii) total area burned by large wildfires increased 400%, (iii) over half the ecoregions had greater than a 70% probability of a large wild fire occurring in the last decade, and (iv) seasonality of large wildfires remained relatively similar.

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