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Fire is the dominant disturbance in forest ecosystems across Canada and Alaska, and has important implications for forest ecosystems, terrestrial carbon dioxide emissions and the forestry industry. Large fire activity had increased in Canadian and Alaskan forests during the last four decades of the 20th century. Here we combined the Palmer Drought Severity Index and historical large fire databases to demonstrate that Canada and Alaska forest regions experienced summer drying over this time period, and drought during the fire season significantly affected forest fire activity in these regions. Climatic warming, positive geopotential height anomalies and ocean circulation patterns were spatially and temporally convolved in causing drought conditions, which in turn enhanced fuel flammability and thereby indirectly affected fire activity. Future fire regimes will likely depend on drought patterns under global climate change scenarios.


Earth Systems Research Center

Publication Date


Journal Title

Environmental Research Letters


Institute of Physics (IOP)

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

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© 2007 IOP Publishing Ltd


This is an article published by Institute of Physics (IOP) in Environmental Research Letters in 2007, available online: