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Wednesday, July 09, 2008 10:43:45 AM

Re: sumisu post# 47

Post# of 84
Climate change link seen in surge of Western blazes

Study correlates warming trend with wildfires
Dennis O'Brien, Baltimore Sun

Friday, July 7, 2006 (two years old - even truer today)

Rising temperatures and earlier melting of snowpacks have sharply increased the number of Western wildfires -- and scientists say to expect more of the same if the trend persists.

Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Arizona examined 34 years of forest fire reports in 11 Western states and found the number of fires increased in size and severity since 1987, the same year that spring and summer temperatures began to rise.

"It's a very good snapshot of what's been happening in the Western forests over the past three decades," said lead author Anthony Westerling, a fire climatologist at UC Merced.

Westerling conducted the research while at the Scripps Institution. The findings were published today in Science.

The researchers examined U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service records of every forest fire that burned at least 1,000 acres from 1970 to 2003. They found that of 1,166 fires in that period, four-fifths of them, or about 900, occurred after 1987.

They also found that air temperatures from 1987 to 2003 were 1.6 degrees higher than during the previous 17 years; that 6.5 times more acreage burned during that warmer period; and that the firefighting season increased by 78 days, the study says.

The reason is simple: Warmer springs and longer dry seasons are creating more kindling in the Western woods, the researchers say.

The biggest increase in forest fires was in the northern Rockies, in the mountains around Yellowstone National Park and the Bitterroot Range, at elevations between 6,000 and 8,000 feet, the study says. It is in those areas that melting snowpacks have the most significant role in determining forest fire risk, Westerling said.

The study does not prove that human-induced climate change is causing more forest fires, Westerling said. But it does show that more fires are likely to start if the warming trend continues.

Researchers did not address why temperatures have risen. The study says temperatures in the 11 states from 1987 to 2003 were the warmest since 1895, when record keeping began.

The study does not examine trends beyond the Western states. Nationwide, wildfires burned an average of 3.6 million acres in the 1990s, but that number shot up to a record 8.4 million acres in 2000. That remained a record until 2005, when 8.6 million acres burned, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Federal agencies spend more than $1 billion a year fighting wildfires, according to the study.

Forestry officials have debated for years whether climate change or forest management policies have been contributing more to the recent conflagrations in the Western forests. For example, experts argue over whether to allow naturally occurring fires to burn so that they clear small trees and underbrush that are potential fuel for larger fires.

Westerling said the research shows that clearing brush and other management practices will work in some places, but not in lands such as the northern Rockies, where climate is a major factor.

"It's not that they do no good," he said. "It's just not a one-size-fits-all silver bullet that's going to fit in every area."

Forest management is a major issue in the West, particularly as homes and communities are built in lands that were once pristine forests.

"On one hand, the Forest Service recognizes how we need to let some fires burn, but as the West develops, you have more people," said Grant Meyer, a geologist at the University of New Mexico who studies erosion and long-term forest fire trends. "People want trees around them, but they don't want the fires anywhere near them, or even the smoke."

The study establishes a link between the increase in forest fires and the changing climate, said Steven Running, a professor in the School of Forestry at the University of Montana who wrote an accompanying article about the report for Science.

Running hopes to include Westerling's findings in a report on the ecological consequences of climate change for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international group examining the issue.

Like hurricanes along the Eastern Seaboard, forest fires have become a visible symbol for many in the West of the possible effects of climate change, Running said. "Only a hurricane is over in a day or two; these forest fires can last for months."


330 active fires are buring today! (per CNN just now) All adding prodigous amounts of CO2 - another positive feed back loop, not good.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Record Heat, Gusting Winds Create “Explosive” Fire Conditions out West


– Temperatures in California soaring past 100ºF, 10º to 20º above normal.
– Record heat, gusting winds creating unprecedented fire-risk conditions in California.
– Storm Exchange forecasted “nightmare” conditions for California firefighters last week.

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