FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Link Between Global Warming and Bigger, More Frequent Wildfires?

Yet more evidence that global warming is having an immediate and severe effect on our environment: A survey of western wildfires occurring between 1970 and 2003 by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography has found that large wildfires after 1987 were four times as frequent and destroyed nearly seven times more forest than their predecessors.

The study also found that warmer seasons with earlier snowmelts in the Rockies caused more frequent and more severe fires. "With the snowmelt coming out a month earlier, areas then get drier earlier overall and there is a longer season in which a fire can be started. There's more opportunity for ignition," says Anthony Westerling of Scripps, who headed the study. Aggressive forestry management appears to help, but it isn't stopping wildfires entirely.

Western wildfires have an economic as well as an environmental impact, as fighting wildfires in the US costs $1.7 billion a year. And with more people living in once-remote forested areas, wildfires pose a growing safety threat. Moreover, the carbon generated by wildfires only adds to greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change. Unfortunately, the Scripps study does not propose a simple solution to reversing the trend.

Source: Scientific American