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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid