News / Science & Technology

Study: Warmer Planet Fuels More Wildfires

This August 30, 2013, image provided by the U.S. Forest Service, shows a member of the BLM Silver State Hotshot crew using a drip torch to set back fires on the southern flank of the Rim Fire in California.
This August 30, 2013, image provided by the U.S. Forest Service, shows a member of the BLM Silver State Hotshot crew using a drip torch to set back fires on the southern flank of the Rim Fire in California.
Rosanne Skirble
A warmer planet is helping to fuel more wildfires in the United States, according to a new study.

Environmental scientists at Harvard University predict that by 2050, wildfire seasons will be three weeks longer, up to twice as smoky, and will burn a wider area in the western part of the country.    
    
Fires in the Western United States have gotten worse since the 1970s. Scientists at Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences looked at past weather conditions and wildfires to find out why.
 
“In some regions, like the Rocky Mountains, really temperature is the driving force, but elsewhere variables like relative humidity can play a role," said Loretta Mickley, an atmospheric chemist and co-author of the study. "If one year is particularly moist, for example, in the Great Basin, Nevada, Utah area, then that will foster a lot of vegetation growth and then the following year all that vegetation can feed wildfires and their spread.”

LISTEN: Study: Warmer Planet Fuels More Wildfires
Study: Warmer Planet Fuels More Wildfires i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

The scientists then turned to a suite of 15 climate models based on the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading international body for the assessment of global warming. On average, the models predicted increases between 2 and 2.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.

“The finding for rainfall, which can diminish fire activity, and for relative humidity, we found only small changes, with some models predicting small increases and some models predicting small decreases in those variables," Mickley said. "So we found as in the past, temperature is really driving the changes that we predict for the future.”  

The calculations suggest the probability of large wildfires would increase by factors of two or three, and that by 2050, the more than four-month fire season would be three weeks longer.  

“If we just look at one month in the future for example, the area burned in the very forested Rockies could quadruple," Mickley said. "If we look at the whole fire season, we see increases more on the order of say 20 or 30 percent to 100 percent.”

While air quality in the United States has greatly improved in recent decades in response to federal laws, Mickley says air pollution is an unexpected consequence of longer lasting, widespread wildfires.     

“These increases in wildfires could totally disrupt our efforts to clean the air," she said. "Last weekend, there was an area the size of some states in the eastern U.S. blanketed with unhealthy air over California and Nevada. And we call this increase in smoke an important climate penalty on air quality.”  

That penalty would be air that is twice as smoky as it is today.  These findings, Mickley says, underscore the need for better forest management.  But also she adds, they send a signal to policy makers and the public to reduce fossil fuel emissions that are warming the planet.

You May Like

N. Korea Sentences American to 6 Years Hard Labor

Matthew Miller's brief trial Sunday comes two weeks after 24-year old Miller and two other American detainees appealed to the US government to help free them More

Pakistan Rejects Afghan Criticism of 480-kilometer Border Trench

Military spokesman tells VOA the project is part of administrative and security measures taken to secure the mountainous border with Afghanistan More

Photogallery Typhoon Kalmaegi Makes Landfall in Philippines

Storm makes landfall late Sunday, cutting power and communications lines and forcing people to flee to higher ground More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interesti
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 12, 2014 8:35 PM
The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video Palestinians Turn to Rebuilding Gaza

After almost two months of conflict in Gaza, Palestinians are preparing to rebuild the isolated Mediterranean enclave with assistance from abroad. Meanwhile, an international human rights group has found that Israel likely violated international laws of war during some of its attacks on Gaza. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Middle Eastern Church Leaders Highlight Christians’ Plight

Patriarchs of Eastern Rite churches came to Washington this week to draw attention to the attacks against Christians in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. VOA’s religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid