Precipitation regime classification for the Mojave Desert: Implications for fire occurrence

Journal of Arid Environments
By: , and 



Long periods of drought or above-average precipitation affect Mojave Desert vegetation condition, biomass and susceptibility to fire. Changes in the seasonality of precipitation alter the likelihood of lightning, a key ignition source for fires. The objectives of this study were to characterize the relationship between recent, historic, and future precipitation patterns and fire. Classifying monthly precipitation data from 1971 to 2010 reveals four precipitation regimes: low winter/low summer, moderate winter/moderate summer, high winter/low summer and high winter/high summer. Two regimes with summer monsoonal precipitation covered only 40% of the Mojave Desert ecoregion but contain 88% of the area burned and 95% of the repeat burn area. Classifying historic precipitation for early-century (wet) and mid-century (drought) periods reveals distinct shifts in regime boundaries. Early-century results are similar to current, while the mid-century results show a sizeable reduction in area of regimes with a strong monsoonal component. Such a shift would suggest that fires during the mid-century period would be minimal and anecdotal records confirm this. Predicted precipitation patterns from downscaled global climate models indicate numerous epochs of high winter precipitation, inferring higher fire potential for many multi-decade periods during the next century.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Precipitation regime classification for the Mojave Desert: Implications for fire occurrence
Series title Journal of Arid Environments
DOI 10.1016/j.jaridenv.2015.09.002
Volume 124
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center, Western Ecological Research Center
Description 10 p.
First page 388
Last page 397
Country United States
Other Geospatial Mojave Desert
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