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Geography   >   Wildfires

What is a Wildfire?

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In this course, Dr Thomas Smith (London School of Economics) explores the causes, impacts and global distribution of wildfires. In the first module, we think about what wildfires are, why they happen, and the extent to which they contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The second module examines the distribution of wildfires across different ecosystems and regions of the world and how this has been altered by human activity, whilst the third summarises the key impacts of wildfires. In the fourth and fifth modules, we focus on two case studies in which human activity has brought about increased proneness to wildfires – Australia’s Northern Territory and the tropical peatland forests of South East Asia. We conclude with a sixth module considering the effects of climate change on the severity and distribution of wildfires.

What is a Wildfire?

In this module, we think about what wildfires are and why they happen. We focus on: (i) the locations and conditions in which wildfires occur; (ii) how wildfires are instigated; (iii) the vegetation combustion process and carbon emissions from wildfires, in which we note that natural wildfires are typically carbon neutral due to subsequent plant regrowth and resequestration through photosynthesis; (iv) how human activity, such as land-use change, has meant that wildfires often now contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Smith, T. (2023, March 06). Wildfires - What is a Wildfire? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Smith, T. "Wildfires – What is a Wildfire?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 06 Mar 2023,

Image Credits


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Dr Thomas Smith

London School of Economics