Fire Science Digest- Climate Change Tipping Points: A Point of No Return?

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Summer 2012 saw records fall for intensity of drought and number, size, and cost of wildfires in the Central and Western United States, and the climate forecast calls for more of the same in the near and distant future. When wildfire breaks out, emergency responders decide their immediate strategy based on past experience and quick judgment calls. But in the long term, land managers need to plan for a warmer climate on a time scale of decades, or even a century or more, to better reflect the life span of trees and forests. Studies supported by the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) are beginning to provide this type of guidance for managers. A central question of interest to researchers is whether there are tipping points, points of no return beyond which landscapes will not revert to their historically documented conditions. Can managers’ actions postpone or halt these drastic changes in forest conditions, or will they instead be forced to plan for a response to inevitable, abrupt changes in the landscape?

Image Source: Joint Fire Science Program