Climate change impacts on wildfire risk in seasonally dry forests


Climate change impacts on wildfire risk in seasonally dry forests


Project Description


Dr Matthew Jones (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia) – Contact me

Professor Sander Veraverbeke (VU Amsterdam, Faculty of Science (Earth and Climate))

Professor John Abatzoglou (University of California Merced, School of Engineering)

Professor Corinne Le Quéré (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia)


Project Background

Record-breaking wildfires in seasonally dry forests of the western US, southeast Australia, and the Mediterranean have significantly impacted livelihoods, economies, ecosystems, and carbon stocks in recent years.

Lightning strikes are implicated as a major ignition source of the largest wildfires in these regions, however incomplete lightning observations have until now restricted the assessment of regional relationships between lightning and wildfire ignition on large scales. Consequently, the potential impacts of climate change on wildfire ignitions by lightning are poorly understood.

Wildfire ignitions occur disproportionately during extreme hot and dry conditions, when vegetation is driest and most flammable. These fire-prone weather conditions are becoming more frequent globally due to climate change. Moreover, warming of the atmosphere intensifies atmospheric convection and can promote increases in lightning frequency. Consequently, climate change presents compound risks of wildfire occurrence by enhancing both forest flammability and ignition opportunities. These compound risks remain understudied.

This project will unravel the contribution of lightning ignitions to modern wildfire patterns in seasonally dry forests and use climate models to predict the impact of climate change on lightning ignitions in future. The project will deliver novel understanding of regional exposure to future wildfire risks and highlight priority locations for risk mitigation.

With the support of an international supervisory team of leading fire and climate scientists, the student will:

  • identify lightning-ignited wildfires using observations of lightning and fire from satellites and ground-based sensors.
  • study the regional impact of lightning strikes on spatial and temporal patterns of wildfire.
  • examine the climatic thresholds that determine whether a lightning strike ignites a wildfire.
  • predict future trends in fire-prone weather and lightning using climate model simulations, and use these predictions to study compound impacts on fire risk.

Training Provision

  • Expertise in programming with Python/R: data carpentry, machine learning, geospatial analysis.
  • NCAS climate modelling summer school (
  • Overseas visits to supervisors in California (2 months) and Amsterdam (1 month), plus visits to the UK Met Office, to learn/develop skills in wildfire detection and modelling.
  • Support to present at international conferences and submit findings to academic journals.

Person Specification

  • Degree in any natural science or data science.
  • Skills: Geospatial and statistical analyses using code (e.g. Python/R).

Further information


  • 1) D. M. J. S. Bowman, G. J. Williamson, J. T. Abatzoglou, C. A. Kolden, M. A. Cochrane, A. M. S. Smith, Human exposure and sensitivity to globally extreme wildfire events. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 1, 0058 (2017).
  • 2) J. T. Abatzoglou, A. P. Williams, Impact of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire across western US forests. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 113, 11770–11775 (2016).
  • 3) S. Veraverbeke, B. M. Rogers, M. L. Goulden, R. R. Jandt, C. E. Miller, E. B. Wiggins, J. T. Randerson, Lightning as a major driver of recent large fire years in North American boreal forests. Nat. Clim. Change. 7, 529–534 (2017).
  • 4) J. T. Abatzoglou, A. P. Williams, R. Barbero, Global Emergence of Anthropogenic Climate Change in Fire Weather Indices. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 326–336 (2019).
  • 5) Jones, M. W., Abatzoglou, J. T., Veraverbeke, S., Andela, N., Lasslop, G., Forkel, M., Smith, A. J. P., Burton, C., Betts, R. A., van der Werf, G. R., Sitch, S., Canadell, J. G., Santín, C., Kolden, C., Doerr, S. H., Le Quéré, C. Pervasive impacts of climate change on fire are mediated by bioclimatic and human factors, Reviews of Geophysics (under review; pre-print available upon request)).
  • 6) D. M. Romps, Evaluating the Future of Lightning in Cloud‐Resolving Models. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 14863–14871 (2019).

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2022. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2022.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship click on the “Apply now” link below.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

Applications are open

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