Saturday, August 11, 2018

Climate Change Is Making Western Wildfires Much Worse

New study finds higher temperatures and dryer land has allowed fires to spread across 16,000 more acres.

A Firefighter Covers His Face While Battling a Wildfire Near Morgan Hill, CA. (Credit: AP/Noah Berger) Click to Enlarge.
Human-caused climate change is driving wildfires to be far more destructive, new research found — nearly doubling the forest fire area in the western United States over the past three decades.

Since 1984, aridity stemming from higher temperatures has allowed wildfires to spread across 16,000 square miles more than they otherwise would have, according to the study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That’s equivalent to an area larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.

“No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger, and the reason is really clear,” Park Williams, coauthor and bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said in a statement.  “Climate is really running the show in terms of what burns.  We should be getting ready for bigger fire years than those familiar to previous generations.”

According to the study, temperatures in forested parts of the west increased about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970, and are expected to keep rising.  More heat dries out land as warmer air sucks up moisture that vegetation and soil would otherwise get.  That drying effect is a major factor behind the rise in wildfires.

In the study, the west includes California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming.

Read more at Climate Change Is Making Western Wildfires Much Worse

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