Nathan P. Gillett talks with
ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about
this month's Fast Moving Front in the field of
Article: Detecting the effect of climate change on
Canadian forest fires Authors:
NP;Weaver, AJ;Zwiers, FW;Flannigan, MD
Journal: GEOPHYS RES LETT, 31 (18): art. no.-L18211 SEP 29
Addresses: Univ Victoria, Sch Earth & Ocean Sci, POB
3055, Victoria, BC V8W 3P6, Canada.
Univ Victoria, Sch Earth & Ocean Sci, Victoria, BC V8W
Canadian Forest Serv, Sault Ste Marie, ON P6A 2E5,
Univ Victoria, Canadian Ctr Climate Modelling & Anal,
Victoria, BC V8W 2Y2, Canada.
Why do you think your paper is highly
The effects of increases in greenhouse gas and other human climate
influences have now been detected in many climate variables, but this was
the first formal attribution study to identify the effect of human-induced
climate change on a climate impact variable—the area burnt by forest
fires in Canada. I think this has led to considerable interest among the
climate impacts community. The article is also cited in many forestry
papers since it demonstrates a direct impact of climate change on forests.
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
"The research shows that climate
change is already having significant impacts
on our environment."
We synthesized forest fire and climate observations, along with output from
a climate model, in order to demonstrate a statistically significant
increase in area burnt, consistent with that expected due to climate
Would you summarize the significance of your paper
in layman's terms?
Our study showed that the increase in the area burnt by forest fires in
Canada is due to human-induced climate change. It was the first study to
formally identify a significant impact of human-induced climate change.
How did you become involved in this research and
were any particular problems encountered along the way?
In 2003, I was working in Victoria, British Columbia, along with Andrew
Weaver and Francis Zwiers, on the detection of human influence on climate.
That year saw many large fires in southern BC, including one which burnt
close to my wife's aunt's house in Kelowna, BC. This prompted us to
investigate whether there was a link between forest fire changes and
climate change. We found that it was important to use actual temperature
observations, rather than relying on model-based reanalyses of surface
temperature, which proved to be unreliable over Canada.
Where do you see your research leading in the
Forest fires are now included explicitly in several climate models,
including the one here at the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and
Analysis, where I now work. It should soon be possible to repeat the study
using simulated area burnt directly from the model, rather than using a
statistical model to predict area burnt changes from temperature. The
methods applied in the paper could also be used in studies of other climate
Do you foresee any social or political implications
for your research?
The research shows that climate change is already having significant
impacts on our environment.
Dr. Nathan P. Gillett
Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis
Victoria, BC, Canada
Keywords: greenhouse gas, human climate influences,
climate variables, forest fires in canada, human-induced climate change,
the canadian centre for climate modelling and analysis.