Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Climate Change Has Doubled Western US Fires

A new study says that human-induced climate change has doubled the area affected by forest fires in the US over the last 30 years. Since 1984, heightened temperatures have dried out forests, causing fires to spread across an additional 16,000 square miles than they otherwise would have. 

Scientists and public officials have in part blamed climate change for this increase. The new study attempts to quantify that assertion. "A lot of people are throwing around the words climate change and fire - specifically, last year fire chiefs and the Governor of California started calling this the 'new normal,'" said lead author John Abatzoglou, a professor of geography at the University of Idaho. "We wanted to put some numbers on it."

The researchers relied on climate data and modeling to present a sweeping regional view of three decades of worsening forest fires. Warmth drives fire by drying out the land. Warmer air can hold more moisture, and the air sucks it out of plants, trees, dead vegetation on the ground, and soil. The resulting drying effect is evident in the rise of more fires.  

The new analysis showed temperature increases caused by rising levels of greenhouse gas pollution have had a drying effect on Western forests that caused 10.4 million acres to burn in large fires during the three decades. That suggests that 44 percent of the forest area burned during the years analyzed burned because of the effects of global warming. The finding was an estimate, with researchers concluding global warming likely drove between six million acres and 16 million acres of forest fire.  

Read more here and here.  And the full report here

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