Jet stream dynamics, hydroclimate, and fire in California from 1600 CE to present

Eugene R. Wahl, Eduardo Zorita, Valerie Trouet, Alan H. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

Moisture delivery in California is largely regulated by the strength and position of the North Pacific jet stream (NPJ), winter high-altitude winds that influence regional hydroclimate and forest fire during the following warm season. We use climate model simulations and paleoclimate data to reconstruct winter NPJ characteristics back to 1571 CE to identify the influence of NPJ behavior on moisture and forest fire extremes in California before and during the more recent period of fire suppression. Maximum zonal NPJ velocity is lower and northward shifted and has a larger latitudinal spread during presuppression dry and high-fire extremes. Conversely, maximum zonal NPJ is higher and southward shifted, with narrower latitudinal spread during wet and low-fire extremes. These NPJ, precipitation, and fire associations hold across pre–20th-century socioecological fire regimes, including Native American burning, postcontact disruption and native population decline, and intensification of forest use during the later 19th century. Precipitation extremes and NPJ behavior remain linked in the 20th and 21st centuries, but fire extremes become uncoupled due to fire suppression after 1900. Simulated future conditions in California include more wet-season moisture as rain (and less as snow), a longer fire season, and higher temperatures, leading to drier fire-season conditions independent of 21st-century precipitation changes. Assuming continuation of current fire management practices, thermodynamic warming is expected to override the dynamical influence of the NPJ on climate–fire relationships controlling fire extremes in California. Recent widespread fires in California in association with wet extremes may be early evidence of this change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5393-5398
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume116
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

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Keywords

  • California
  • Fire
  • Jet stream
  • Paleoclimatology
  • Precipitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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