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

Prof. Sander Veraverbeke, VU Amsterdam (Faculty of Science – Earth and Climate)

Prof. John Abatzoglou, University of California, Merced (School of Engineering)

Prof. Manoj Joshi, UEA, School of Environmental Science


Project background

Wildfires in the seasonally dry forests of western North America, Australia, and the Mediterranean have had record-breaking impacts on livelihoods, economies, ecosystems, and even carbon storage in recent years.

Lightning strikes have been implicated as a major ignition source in these regions, however limited observations of lightning have until now restricted the assessment of relationships between lightning and wildfire in a changing climate. Consequently, the potential impact of climate change on wildfire ignitions by lightning are poorly understood.

Wildfire ignitions occur disproportionately during extremely hot and dry conditions, when vegetation is at its driest and most flammable. Such fire-prone weather conditions are becoming more frequent globally due to climate change.

Moreover, global warming might also promote increases in lightning frequency over land. Consequently, climate change presents compound risks of wildfire occurrence by enhancing both forest flammability and ignition opportunities.

This project will use observations to unravel the contribution of lightning ignitions to modern wildfire patterns in seasonally dry forests, and subsequently employ climate model projections to evaluate the impact of future climate change on lightning ignitions.

The project will improve understanding of how wildfire risks may change across the world’s forests in future, with the view to help society prepare and adapt to changing risks and to optimise the planning of climate-smart and fire-smart re/afforestation programmes.

Research Methodology

With the support of a international supervisory team, the student will:

  • identify lightning-ignited wildfires by combining observations of lightning and fire from satellites and ground-based sensors.
  • evaluate the regional impact of lightning strikes on spatial and temporal patterns of wildfire.
  • examine the climatic thresholds that determine whether lightning ignites wildfires.
  • predict future changes in wildfire risk resulting from compound increases in extreme weather and lightning, based on climate model projections.


  • Programming with Python/R (advanced level): data analysis, machine learning, geospatial analysis.
  • NCAS climate modelling summer school (
  • Overseas visits to co-supervisors in California (2 months) and Amsterdam (1 month).
  • Visits to the UK Met Office to interact with fire and lightning modellers.
  • Support to present at international conferences and submit findings to academic journals.

Person Specification

  • Degree or international equivalent in any quantitative or natural sciences discipline (e.g. Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Environmental Sciences, Meteorology, Chemistry).
  • Skills: Experience of using programming languages (e.g. Python or R) to analyse scientific data is desirable.

Further information

My Research Team


  • Jones, M. W., Abatzoglou, J. T., Veraverbeke, S., Andela, N., Lasslop, G., Forkel, M., ... & Le Quéré, C. (2022). Global and regional trends and drivers of fire under climate change. Reviews of Geophysics, e2020RG000726.
  • Veraverbeke, S., Rogers, B. M., Goulden, M. L., Jandt, R. R., Miller, C. E., Wiggins, E. B., & Randerson, J. T. (2017). Lightning as a major driver of recent large fire years in North American boreal forests. Nature Climate Change, 7(7), 529-534.
  • Abatzoglou, J. T., Kolden, C. A., Balch, J. K., & Bradley, B. A. (2016). Controls on interannual variability in lightning-caused fire activity in the western US. Environmental Research Letters, 11(4), 045005.
  • Abatzoglou, J. T., Williams, A. P., & Barbero, R. (2019). Global emergence of anthropogenic climate change in fire weather indices. Geophysical Research Letters, 46(1), 326-336.
  • RG Harrison, MM Joshi, K Pascoe, Inferring convective responses to El Niño with atmospheric electricity measurements at Shetland 2011 Environ. Res. Lett. 6 044028

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 19th May 2023.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) and research funding. Please note that all international awards have been made for our programme for 2023 so we will not be accepting applications from international candidates,
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. 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.
  • 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 follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • 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

Apply now