Extreme climate events and fire disturbances


We investigate impacts of fire disturbance and extreme events on ecosystems and feedbacks in the Earth System.


Recent climate scenarios predict more intense and frequent extreme weather events such as droughts, heatwaves and heavy precipitation events during the 21st century. With droughts lasting longer and becoming more severe, fires are expected to occur often and becoming more intense. A better understanding of the impacts of such disturbances on the stability of ecosystems, the impact on social-ecological systems and the emergence of potential ecological tipping points are required to reduce vulnerability through adapted land management.

Research goals and questions

Projection and experiment-based investigations allow us to assess the ecological, biophysical and biogeochemical effects of extreme events and fire disturbance on the stability of fire-prone ecosystems.

  • What are critical magnitudes and frequencies of climate extremes and fire disturbance for ecosystems?
  • How can social-ecological systems, specifically ecosystems, adapt?
  • How vulnerable are degraded ecosystems?
  • Are functionally diverse ecosystems less vulnerable to climate extremes and fire disturbances?


We compiled the scientific challenges to advance our understanding on how social-ecological systems can adapt to climate extremes. Recent extreme wildfires caught a lot of attention, extreme fires affected social-ecological systems, biodiversity and air quality. For each affected biome the causes varied, the effects, biodiversity loss, carbon emissions and reduced air quality were comparable. Kirsten Thonicke supported German newspapers to provide an overview on fire extremes and on global fire regimes. When extreme fires stopped burning, average rainfall events might be sufficient to start cascading effects that followed the devastating forest fires in Australia 2019-2020.