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Photo by Marcus Kauffman on Unsplash.

Photo by Marcus Kauffman on Unsplash.

ACRoBEAR – high-latitude risk of wildfire and disease

The ACRoBEAR (Arctic Community Resilience to Boreal Environmental Change: Assessing Risks from fire and disease) project will quantify changing risk of boreal forest fire and natural-focal disease for local communities in high northern latitudes under changing environmental and climatic conditions.

The Arctic is warming rapidly – at around twice the rate of global mean temperature increase – resulting in widespread changes to the high-latitude earth system. For high-latitude communities, there is an urgent need to understand the impact of rapid environmental changes on their wellbeing, livelihoods, and culture. In particular, the increasing occurrence of extreme weather events has led to significant impacts and societal challenges in recent years for communities across the northern high latitudes.

Extreme warming events during spring and summer have been experienced in Scandinavia, Alaska, and Russia, and their occurrence is becoming more frequent in many high latitude regions. Such extremes lead to increased mortality and environmental impacts. Two important (and potentially interacting) pathways by which extreme heat events may affect societal health are via changes in the occurrence of wildfires and natural focal disease (such as tick-borne disease).

Recent years have already seen unprecedented forest fire activity in many high-latitude areas. The Scandinavian summer of 2018 was record-breaking with respect to heatwaves and wildfires in Sweden and Norway. In Alaska and Siberia, the number of fires and area burned have increased over the past two decades, and June 2019 saw unprecedented fire activity within the Arctic Circle, with fire emissions exceeding those for the same month of the years 2010-2018 combined. Fires affect ecosystems and increase the amounts of particulate matter and ozone pollutants that are harmful to human health, with hazardous pollution levels regularly observed in many places due to nearby fires.

Projected warming and precipitation changes in high latitudes may lead to further increases in fire activity and changing patterns of disease-carrying vectors in the coming decades. However, how these risks will evolve with changing climate remains poorly quantified, and limited knowledge of environmental, social, and governance factors specific to these regions hamper our current ability to understand community resilience and response.

Together with an interdisciplinary team of experts from the UK, Sweden, Finland, Russia, France and the USA, CICERO researchers will in the ACRoBEAR project work to address these knowledge deficiencies. The goal is to produce robust pan-Arctic predictions of fire air quality and natural-focal disease risk under future climate and development scenarios, delivering knowledge targeted to decision-making needs. The project, which is funded by the Belmont Forum, runs for four years (2020-2023) and is led by Dr. Steve Arnold at the University of Leeds.