Mike Flannigan

Mike Flannigan
Thompson Rivers University · Department of Natural Resource Science

Professor

About

295
Publications
160,840
Reads
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26,372
Citations
Introduction
My primary research interests include fire and weather/climate interactions including the potential impact of climatic change, lightning-ignited forest fires, landscape fire modelling and interactions between vegetation (peat in particular), fire and weather.
Additional affiliations
October 2010 - present
University of Alberta
Description
  • Professor of Wildland Fire Director of the Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Science
January 1981 - October 2012
Natural Resources Canada
Education
September 1990 - June 1993
University of Cambridge
Field of study
  • Plant Sciences
August 1983 - June 1985
Colorado State University
Field of study
  • Atmospheric Science

Publications

Publications (295)
Article
Forest organic layers are important soil carbon pools that can, in the absence of disturbance, accumulate to great depths, especially in lowland areas. Across the Canadian boreal forest, fire is the primary disturbance agent, often limiting organic layer accumulation through the direct consumption of these fuels. Organic layer thickness (OLT) and f...
Article
During summer, persistent positive anomalies (PPAs) of mid-tropospheric geopotential heights in North America are often associated with extreme weather, including heatwaves. We evaluate the link between prolonged summertime PPAs in 500-hPa geopotential heights and wildfire activity across western North America and examine temporal trends in PPA cha...
Article
Increasing fire frequency in some biomes is leading to fires burning in close succession, triggering rapid vegetation change and altering soil properties. We studied the effects of short-interval reburns on soil bacterial communities of the boreal forest of northwestern Canada using paired sites (n = 44). Both sites in each pair had burned in a rec...
Article
Alberta wildfires vary greatly in severity, resulting in a mosaic of burnt, partially burnt, and unburnt forest. These unburnt patches, or refugia, within the fire perimeter, are critical for the survival of organisms during the fire and the regeneration process. We examined the literature to identify how the fire regimes and landscape features fou...
Article
Great efforts have been made to understand the impacts of a changing climate on fire activity; however, a reliable approach with high prediction confidence has yet to be found. By establishing linkages between the longest duration of fire-conducive weather spell and fire activity parameters, this study projected annual area burned (AAB), annual num...
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There is mounting concern that global wildfire activity is shifting in frequency, intensity and seasonality in response to climate change. Fuel moisture provides a powerful means of detecting changing fire potential. Here, we use global burned area and weather reanalysis data, and the Canadian Fire Weather Index system to calculate fuel moisture tr...
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Recent increases in regional wildfire activity have been linked to climate change. Here, we analyse trends in observed global extreme fire weather and their meteorological drivers from 1979 to 2020 using the ERA5 reanalysis. Trends in annual extreme (95th percentile) values of the fire weather index (FWI95), initial spread index (ISI95) and vapour...
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Improving the accuracy of fire behavior prediction requires better understanding of live fuel, the dominant component of tree crowns, which dictates the consumption and energy release of the crown fire flame-front. Live fuel flammability is not well represented by existing evaluation methods. High-flammability live fuel, e.g., in conifers, may main...
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Understanding climate change impacts on wildland fire activity has been constrained by the high uncertainty embedded in the prediction of fire size (FS), annual number of fires (ANF), and annual area burned (AAB). While there has been a sustained effort to make connections between fire weather and fire activity, most studies have focused on individ...
Preprint
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Climate and weather greatly influence wildfire, and recent increases in wildfire activity have been linked to climate change. However, the atmospheric drivers of observed changes have not been articulated globally. We present a global analysis of trends in extreme fire weather from 1979–2020. Significant increases in extreme (95th percentile) annua...
Article
Northern hemisphere mid-latitudeweather is strongly influenced by the polar jet stream (PJS), which dictates the position of storm tracks; this influence also extends to weather patterns conducive to the ignition and growth of large wildfires. We examined the role of the PJS on extreme wildfire events in North America (NA) between 40° and 70°N lati...
Preprint
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Increasing burn rates (percentage area burned annually) in some biomes are leading to fires burning in close succession, triggering rapid vegetation change as well as altering soil properties. Despite the importance of soil microbes for nutrient cycling and as plant symbionts, the effects of increased fire frequency on belowground microbial communi...
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2020 is the year of wildfire records. California experienced its three largest fires early in its fire season. The Pantanal, the largest wetland on the planet, burned over 20% of its surface. More than 18 million hectares of forest and bushland burned during the 2019–2020 fire season in Australia, killing 33 people, destroying nearly 2500 homes, an...
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The majority of area burned by wildfire are located in Siberia. Mainly low-intensity surface fires occur in larch forests, whereas in evergreen forests both surface and crown fires are observed. Warming has led to an increase in the frequency and area of wildfires that have reached the Arctic Ocean shore. However, wildfires are the most important f...
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We evaluated surface and 500-hPa synoptic weather patterns, and fire weather indices from the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System for 80 large wildfires during 1990–2019 in Alberta that started in May and grew to over 1000 ha. Spread days were identified during the first 4 days of wildfire activity. We observed two distinct synoptic weather p...
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We celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Journal of Forest Research by reflecting on the considerable progress accomplished in select areas of Canadian wildfire science over the past half century. Specifically, we discuss key developments and contributions in the creation of the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System; the relationships...
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An important aspect of predicting future wildland fire risk is estimating fire weather—weather conducive to the ignition and propagation of fire—under realistic climate change scenarios. Because the majority of area burned occurs on a few days of extreme fire weather, this task should be able to resolve fire weather extremes. In this paper, we pres...
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The broad consensus indicates that climate change will cause larger and more frequent fires, resulting in a growing annual area burned (AAB) in much of Canada. Our ability to predict future changes in fire size (FS) and AAB is limited due to the uncertainty embedded in climate change models and our inability to quantify the complex interactions bet...
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We present a global high-resolution calculation of the Canadian Fire Weather Index (FWI) System indices using surface meteorology from the ERA5 HRES reanalysis for 1979–2018. ERA5 HRES represents an improved dataset compared to several other reanalyses in terms of accuracy, as well as spatial and temporal coverage. The FWI calculation is performed...
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Vegetation fires are an essential component of the Earth system but can also cause substantial economic losses, severe air pollution, human mortality and environmental damage. Contemporary fire regimes are increasingly impacted by human activities and climate change, but, owing to the complex fire–human–climate interactions and incomplete historica...
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Artificial intelligence has been applied in wildfire science and management since the 1990s, with early applications including neural networks and expert systems. Since then the field has rapidly progressed congruently with the wide adoption of machine learning (ML) methods in the environmental sciences. Here, we present a scoping review of ML applica...
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Spring fire activity has increased in parts of Canada, particularly in the west, prompting fire managers to seek indicators of potential activity before the fire season starts. The overwintering adjustment of the Canadian Fire Weather Index System’s Drought Code (DC) is a method to adjust and carry-over the previous season’s drought conditions into...
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Even though wildfires constitute a natural phenomenon, they may have severe implications with respect to the socioeconomic structure of the affected population and the ecological wealth of a territory, especially when they burn under high intensities. Timing of the initial attack is thus crucial to fire control in areas that fires are considered to...
Preprint
Full-text available
Artificial intelligence has been applied in wildfire science and management since the 1990s, with early applications including neural networks and expert systems. Since then the field has rapidly progressed congruently with the wide adoption of machine learning (ML) in the environmental sciences. Here, we present a scoping review of ML in wildfire...
Article
We examined the seasonal distribution of lightning- and human-caused wildfires ≥ 2 ha in Canada for two time periods: 1959–2018 and 1981–2018. Furthermore, we investigated trends in seasonality, number of fires per year and number of days with fire starts per year for human- and lightning-caused fires. Nationally, lightning fires peaked from June t...
Preprint
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Abstract. We present a global high-resolution calculation of the Canadian Fire Weather Index (FWI) System Indices using surface meteorology from the ERA5-HRS reanalysis for 1979–2018. ERA5-HRS represents an improved dataset compared to several other reanalyses in terms of accuracy, as well as spatial and temporal coverage. The FWI calculation is pe...
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Despite increasing concern about wildland fire risk in Canada, there is little synthesis of knowledge that could contribute to the development of a comprehensive risk framework for a wide range of values, which is an essential need for the country. With dramatic variability in costs and losses from this natural hazard, there must be more support fo...
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The size and frequency of large wildfires in western North America have increased in recent years, a trend climate change is likely to exacerbate. Due to fuel limitations, recently burned forests resist burning for upwards of 30 years; however, extreme fire-conducive weather enables reburning at shorter fire-free intervals than expected. This resea...
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Limber pine (Pinus flexilis), an understudied tree species important to montane and subalpine ecosystems, is listed as endangered in Alberta. Dispersal of seeds to newly disturbed, open areas by Clark's nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) is expected to facilitate post-disturbance establishment of limber pine. Prescribed burning has thus been propose...
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Fire regime zonation systems are critical tools for research and management activities. In this study, we develop a hierarchical framework that applies both qualitative and quantitative approaches to create a two-level fire regime zonation system for Canada. The finer scale level, Fire Regime Units (FRUs), was created through a stepwise synthesis o...
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Wildfire in boreal permafrost peatlands causes a thickening and warming of the seasonally thawed active layer, exposing large amounts of soil carbon to microbial processes and potential release as greenhouse gases. In this study, conducted in the discontinuous permafrost zone of western Canada, we monitored soil thermal regime and soil respiration...
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Wildfire management agencies in Canada are at a tipping point. Presuppression and suppression costs are increasing but program budgets are not. Climate change impacts and increasing interface values-at-risk are challenging suppression effectiveness and resulting in more wildfire disasters. We conducted semi-structured interviews with these agencies...
Technical Report
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Responses, outcomes, and management options for lodgepole pine forests in Alberta following attack by Mountain Pine Beetle
Article
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Global fire regimes are changing, with increases in wildfire frequency and severity expected for many North American forests over the next 100 years. Fires can result in dramatic changes to carbon (C) stocks and can restructure plant and microbial communities, with long-lasting effects on ecosystem functions. We investigated wildfire effects on soi...
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Recently, the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: a Second Notice was issued in response to ongoing and largely unabated environmental degradation due to anthropogenic activities. In the warning, humanity is urged to practice more environmentally sustainable alternatives to business as usual to avoid potentially catastrophic outcomes. Following...
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Recent human-interface wildfires around the world have raised concerns regarding the reliability of freshwater supply flowing from severely burned watersheds. Degraded source water quality can often be expected after severe wildfire and can pose challenges to drinking water facilities by straining treatment response capacities, increasing operating...
Article
Weather and climate are major factors influencing worldwide wildfire activity. This study assesses surface and atmospheric conditions associated with the 2014 extreme wildfires in the Northwest Territories (NWT) of Canada. Hot and dry conditions led to the NWT experiencing the most severe wildfire season in its recorded history. The season included...
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Montane regions throughout western North America have experienced increases in forest canopy closure and forest encroachment into grasslands over the past century; this has been attributed to climate change and fire suppression/exclusion. These changes threaten ecological values and potentially increase probabilities of intense wildfire. Restoratio...
Technical Report
Full-text available
This Occasional Paper is the result of a large collaborative effort by fire scientists and practitioners who believe that learning to co-exist with changing fire activity is not only possible but necessary if we, as a global society, are to adapt to climate change and keep our natural and cultural landscapes healthy, resilient, and safe for the nex...
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The Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index System is the primary measurement of wildfire danger in Canada. Interpolating daily precipitation, one of the inputs for the Fire Weather Index System is a key challenge in areas without sufficient weather stations. This work evaluates the performance of gridded precipitation from the Canadian Precipitation An...
Preprint
Full-text available
Global fire regimes are changing, with increases in wildfire frequency and severity expected for many North American forests over the next 100 years. Fires can result in dramatic changes to C stocks and can restructure plant and microbial communities, which can have long-lasting effects on ecosystem functions. We investigated wildfire effects on so...
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Full-text available
Contemporary fire regimes of Canadian forests have been well documented based on forest fire records between the late 1950s to 1990s. Due to known limitations of fire datasets, an analysis of changes in fire-regime characteristics could not be easily undertaken. This paper presents fire-regime trends nationally and within two zonation systems, the...
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Boreal woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) are currently listed as threatened in Canada, with populations in the province of Alberta expected to decline as much as 50 percent over the next 8–15 yr. We assessed the future of caribou habitat across a region of northeast Alberta using a model of habitat‐quality and projections of future clima...
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Permafrost vulnerability to climate change may be underestimated unless effects of wildfire are considered. Here we assess impacts of wildfire on soil thermal regime and rate of thermokarst bog expansion resulting from complete permafrost thaw in western Canadian permafrost peatlands. Effects of wildfire on permafrost peatlands last for 30 years an...
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Forest fire risk estimation constitutes an essential process to prevent high-intensity fires which are associated with severe implications to the natural and cultural environment. The primary aim of this research was to determine fire risk levels based on the local features of an island, namely, the impact of fuel structures, slope, aspects, as wel...
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The influence of humans on the boreal forest has altered the temporal and spatial patterns of wildfire activity through modification of the physical environment and through fire management for the protection of human and economic values. Wildfires are actively suppressed in areas with higher human influence, but, paradoxically, these areas have mor...
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Wildfires, which constitute the most extensive natural disturbance of the boreal biome, produce a broad range of ecological impacts to vegetation and soils that may influence post-fire vegetation assemblies and seedling recruitment. We inventoried post-fire understory vascular plant communities and tree seedling recruitment in the northwestern Cana...
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Burn severity (ecological impacts of fire on vegetation and soils) influences post-fire stand structure and species composition. The spatial pattern of burn severity may compound the ecological impacts of fire through distances to seed sources and availability of bud banks and seedbeds. Land managers require spatial burn severity data to manage pos...
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Climate change mediated drying of boreal peatlands is expected to enhance peatland afforestation and wildfire vulnerability. The water table depth-afforestation feedback represents a positive feedback that can enhance peat drying and consolidation and thereby increase peat burn severity; exacerbating the challenges and costs of wildfire suppression...
Article
Destruction of human-built structures occurs in the ‘wildland–urban interface’ (WUI) – where homes or other burnable community structures meet with or are interspersed within wildland fuels. To mitigate WUI fires, basic information such as the location of interface areas is required, but such information is not available in Canada. Therefore, in th...
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Introduction The Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System (CFFDRS) is a globally known wildland fire risk assessment system, and two major components, the fire weather index system and the fire behavior prediction system, have been extensively used both nationally and internationally to aid operational wildland fire decision making. Methods In th...
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CITATION: Worldwide_Wildfire , r/Science , Hi Reddit! We're Stefan Doerr, Is human intervention in putting out natural wildfires playing a significant role in the number and severity of wildfires in your opinion? Growing up in California, wildfires were a fact of life. I always wondered why the areas that didn't put people at risk weren't allowed t...