The Environment

Some Topics

 

YINYANG

Forest Fires

Dry forests are areas of high risk that catch fire and cause major economic costs, atmospheric air pollution and loss of life. Animals and humans are vulnerable. Abatzoglou and Williams Stated:” Increased forest fire activity across the western United States ( and Canada) in recent decades has contributed to widespread forest mortality, carbon emissions, periods of degraded air quality, and substantial fire suppression expenditures. Although numerous factors aided the recent rise in fire activity, observed warming and drying have significantly increased fire-season fuel aridity, fostering a more favorable fire environment across forested systems. We demonstrate that human-caused climate change caused over half of the documented increases in dry forests since the 1970s and doubled the cumulative forest fire area since 1984. This analysis suggests that anthropogenic climate change will continue to chronically enhance the potential for western forest fire activity. “[i] Extensive fires in countries such as Indonesia can interfere with weather and ocean currents. Smoke plumes can be seen in satellite photographs extending thousand of kilometers.

Lightning Storms

A new NASA-funded study found that lightning storms were the main driver of recent massive fire years in Alaska and northern Canada, and that these storms are likely to move farther north with climate warming, potentially altering northern landscapes. The team found increases of between two and five percent a year in the number of lightning-ignited fires since 1975. Higher atmospheric temperatures create more thunderstorms. Fires are creeping farther north, near the transition from boreal forests to Arctic tundra. In high-latitude ecosystems, permafrost soils store large amounts of carbon that become vulnerable after fires pass through."Exposed mineral soils after tundra fires also provide favorable seedbeds for trees migrating north under a warmer climate." A complex feedback loop between climate, lightning, fires, carbon and forests that may quickly alter northern landscapes.[ii]

Increasing Fires from Global Warming

There are important difference between natural fires that are limited in scope and duration and the massive, destructive fires that are now more frequent occurrences. Abnormal fires are often caused by human carelessness or involve human changes to the environment. According to Natural Resources Canada:” Wildland fires present a challenge for forest management because they have the potential to be at once harmful and beneficial. Wildland fires can threaten communities and destroy vast amounts of timber resources, resulting in costly losses. On the other hand, wildland fires are a natural part of the forest ecosystem and important in many parts of Canada for maintaining the health and diversity of the forest. In this way, prescribed fires offer a valuable resource management tool for enhancing ecological conditions and eliminating excessive fuel build-up. Not all wildland fires should (or can) be controlled. Forest agencies work to harness the force of natural fire to take advantage of its ecological benefits while at the same time limiting its potential damage and costs. This makes fire control strategies a vital component of forest management and emergency management in Canada.”[iv]

Canada has 9% of the world’s forests. In 2015, the total forest burned in Canada, 2015 is 3,004,848 hectares. That’s a larger area than the island of Sicily, Italy. And in 2014, which was the worst fire season since 2007, 4,123,986 hectares burned, the equivalent of burning the entire country of Switzerland. Fighting fires across areas larger than small countries is a collaborative effort. Firefighters from across the country and even from the United States have pitched in to help combat the active fire season.
Dangerous, costly, abnormal fires are exemplified by the Fort McMurray Fire. On May 1, 2016, a wildfire began southwest of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. On May 3, it swept through the community, destroying approximately 2,400 homes and buildings and forcing the largest wildfire evacuation in Albertan history. It continued to spread across northern Alberta and into Saskatchewan, consuming forested areas and impacting Athabasca oil sands operations. The fire spread across approximately 590,000 hectares (1,500,000 acres) before it was declared to be under control on July 5, 2016. It is the costliest disaster in Canadian history. An official cause of the fire has not been determined to date, but it is suspected to be human caused, starting in a remote area 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) from Fort McMurray. Cost estimates based on insurance payouts reached $4.7 billion (CAD).In July 2017 a massive outbreak of fires in British Columbia sent about 43,000 citizens out of their homes and into shelters.

There were more than 67,000 wildfires across the United States in 2016. The fires burned over 5.5 million acres. In 2015, when severe drought in the West created conditions favorable to conditions, over 10 million acres burned. The National Interagency Fire Center, a group of connected federal agencies monitor wildfires in every state. While fires can and do occur anywhere there are trees, they are more common and destructive in some parts of the country, particularly in sparsely populated states. In Alaska, more than 12 million acres have burned over the last 10 years, more than the total burned acreage in 38 other states combined. The 6.9 million acres burned in Idaho due to wildfires from 2007 through 2016 is equal to about 13% of the total landmass of the state. [v]

Thousands of small forest fires have burned across the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, the habitats for orangutans and other rare species. Indonesia’s fires are much worse than California’s. They are deliberately set and many of them occur in carbon-rich peat forests. These forests—which would normally be wet and hard to burn grow out of several meters’ worth of damp, rich organic matter instead of soil. The peat forests can become so dry, one match or a cigarette would let it all go up in flames. This releases more carbon than normal forest fires, and makes the fires hard to control. Even if things look fine, there are actually fires burning 20 feet below the ground The fires threaten more than just Indonesia’s wildlife. They have also created a cloud of smoke and haze big enough to be seen from space and are releasing an estimated 15 to 20 million tons of carbon dioxide per day—more than the emissions from the entire U.S. economy. [vi]

[i] John T. Abatzogloua and A. Park Williams Impact of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire across western US forests. PNAS October 18, 2016 vol. 113
[ii] Sander Veraverbeke ae al. Lightning sparking more boreal forest fires NASA global climate change. June 2017
[iii] Wild Nature Institute. Snag Forest Habitat Protection. Accessed Online Dec. 2016. http://www.wildnatureinstitute.org/snag-forest.html?gclid=CLDSiZCE3tACFYJ8fgodAqgPHw
[iv] Natural Resources Canada . Forest Fires. Accessed online Dec. 2016. http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/forests/fire-insects-disturbances/fire/13143
[v] Michael Sauter. States Where Wildfires Caused the Most Damage. 24/7 Wall St. May 10 2017.
[vi] Take Part. Indonesia Burns accessed online Feb 2017 http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/10/22/orangutans-are-dying-indonesia-burns

 
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