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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

'Exceptionally Lucky' US Boy Survives Flight in Wheel Well

The boy was unconscious for most of the flight, and appeared to be unharmed after enduring the extremely cold temperatures and lack of oxygen More

US Anti-Corruption Law Snags Major Tech Company

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in December, 1977 More

Cameron Criticized for Calling UK 'Christian Country'

Letter from scientists, academics and writers says the prime minister is fostering division by repeatedly referring to England as a 'Christian country' 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid