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Environ Sci Technol. 2014 Feb 18;48(4):2298-304. doi: 10.1021/es4050133. Epub 2014 Feb 3.

Projected effects of climate and development on California wildfire emissions through 2100.

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Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, The Pennsylvania State University , University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, United States.


Changing climatic conditions are influencing large wildfire frequency, a globally widespread disturbance that affects both human and natural systems. Understanding how climate change, population growth, and development patterns will affect the area burned by and emissions from wildfires and how populations will in turn be exposed to emissions is critical for climate change adaptation and mitigation planning. We quantified the effects of a range of population growth and development patterns in California on emission projections from large wildfires under six future climate scenarios. Here we show that end-of-century wildfire emissions are projected to increase by 19-101% (median increase 56%) above the baseline period (1961-1990) in California for a medium-high temperature scenario, with the largest emissions increases concentrated in northern California. In contrast to other measures of wildfire impacts previously studied (e.g., structural loss), projected population growth and development patterns are unlikely to substantially influence the amount of projected statewide wildfire emissions. However, increases in wildfire emissions due to climate change may have detrimental impacts on air quality and, combined with a growing population, may result in increased population exposure to unhealthy air pollutants.

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