Trends and patterns in annually burned forest areas and fire weather across the European boreal zone in the 20th and early 21st centuries

Igor Drobyshev, Nina Ryzhkova, Jonathan Eden, Mara Kitenberga, Guilherme Pinto, Henrik Lindberg, Folmer Krikken, Maxim Yermokhin, Yves Bergeron, Alexander Kryshen

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    Fire remains one of the main natural disturbance factors in the European boreal zone and understanding climatic forcing on fire activity is important for projecting effects of climate change on ecosystem services in this region. We analyzed records of annually burned areas in 16 administrative regions of the European boreal zone (countries or administrative units within countries) and fire weather variability to test for their spatio-temporal patterns over the 1901-2017 period. Over the 1992-2017 period, the region exhibited large variability in forest fire activity with the fire cycles varying from ~1600 (St. Petersburg region) to ~37000 years (Finland). The clustering of administrative units in respect to their burned area, suggested the presence of sub-regions with synchronous annual variability in burned areas. Large fire years (LFYs) in each of the clusters were associated with the development of the high pressure cell over or in immediate proximity of the regions in question in July, indicating climatic forcing of LFYs. Contingency analysis indicated that there was no long-term trend in the synchrony of LFYs observed simultaneously in several administrative units. We documented a trend towards higher values of Monthly Drought Code (MDC) for the months of April and May in the western (April) and northern (April and May) sections. The significant positive correlation between biome-wide fire activity index and June SNAO (Summer North Atlantic Oscillation) (r = 0.53) pointed to the importance of large-scale atmospheric circulation, in particular the summer European blocking pattern, in controlling forest fires across EBZ. The forest fire activity of the European boreal zone remains strongly connected to the annual climate variability. Higher frequency of strongly positive SNAO states in the future will likely synchronize years with a large area burned across the European boreal zone.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number108467
    Number of pages14
    JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
    Early online date21 May 2021
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2021

    Bibliographical note

    This is an open access article under the CC BY license (


    Stiftelsen Stina Werners Foundation (grant # SSWF-17-3-Chdre), The Belmont Forum through consortium PREREAL (grant # 292_292-2015-11-30-13-43-09), the grant from the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (grant # 20-04-00568), The Swedish Institute through the BalticFire network (grant # 24474/2018), CBC KolArctic project IMPRESS (# KO4040), and state order to the Karelian Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Forest Research Institute KRC).


    • Forest fires
    • disturbance regimes
    • climate-fire interactions
    • trends in drought conditions
    • climate-related risks


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