Extreme fire weather in Chile driven by climate change and El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)

Raúl R. Cordero, Sarah Feron*, Alessandro Damiani, Jorge Carrasco, Cyrus Karas, Chenghao Wang, Clarisse T. Kraamwinkel, Anne Beaulieu

*Corresponding author for this work

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    A string of fierce fires broke out in Chile in the austral summer 2023, just six years after the record-breaking 2017 fire season. Favored by extreme weather conditions, fire activity has dramatically risen in recent years in this Andean country. A total of 1.7 million ha. burned during the last decade, tripling figures of the prior decade. Six of the seven most destructive fire seasons on record occurred since 2014. Here, we analyze the progression during the last two decades of the weather conditions associated with increased fire risk in Central Chile (30°-39° S). Fire weather conditions (including high temperatures, low humidity, dryness, and strong winds) increase the potential for wildfires, once ignited, to rapidly spread. We show that the concurrence of El Niño and climate-fueled droughts and heatwaves boost the local fire risk and have decisively contributed to the intense fire activity recently seen in Central Chile. Our results also suggest that the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean variability modulates the seasonal fire weather in the country, driving in turn the interannual fire activity. The signature of the warm anomalies in the Niño 1 + 2 region (0°-10° S, 90° W-80° W) is apparent on the burned area records seen in Central Chile in 2017 and 2023.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number1974
    Number of pages12
    JournalScientific Reports
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 23-Jan-2024

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