Notably, the gradual increases in mean temperature accompanied by unprecedented weather and climate-events has generated concerns for the future of Earth. In recent years, one exemplary effect being apparent in multiple sectors of the world: forest fires—the California wildfires in 2018, the Amazon Rainforest wildfires in 2019, and Australia’s wildfires in early 2020. The major disaster further contributing to greenhouse gas emissions which includes Carbon Dioxide (CO2).
Severity of Wildfires Measured by Simulation Models
To be fair, natural wildfires can occur with the purpose to balance biodiversity. Despite this, the frequency among these disasters suggest it’s more than a mere coincidence. In view of this, small yet comprehensive review of past climate data and prognostics surrounding forest fires will be introspective into evaluating correlation between climate change and forest fires.
To begin, climate projections under two simulation models: cSTSMs simulation statistically describes the natural disturbances; MC2 simulation uses data to emulate ecological processes in the area—confirm increase of wildfires centered in western Washington with, “Historical burn rates were similar between the two modeling approaches (0.24– 0.3% of study area annually); however, projected future increases were far smaller under the cSTSMs (mean future burn rate of 0.7%) than in MC2 (mean future rate of 1.2) …The year-to-year variation in our cSTSM fire trends was large, varying from zero in some years to tens of thousands of hectares in other years” (Halofsky, et al.)
Regardless of the approach, increase between historical and projected burn rates is alarming—delta for average burn rate increasing 0.4% for cSTSMs and delta for average burn rate increasing nearly 1% under MC2. Both simulations account for different variables under a forest to reduce error of projected results, where the variables emphasize the natural occurrence of a wildfire. In other words, the data shares commonalities to a measure of risk. Personally, the simulations illuminate the growing destructive natures behind wildfire.
Under further investigation, NARCCAP simulations with various RCM-GCM combinations—RCM and GCM being varying climate models—analyze the Haines Index (HI) across the United States to discover similarities in current and future climate conditions: “spatial patterns and seasonal variations for the percentage of days with HI ≥5,” suggest the reality for “higher potential of large and erratic wildfires due to favorable atmospheric conditions alone” for the foreseeable future (Tang, et al.). Implications on simulation results include “an increase in percentage of days with HI ≥5 during the summer season by midcentury,” with future climate conditions elongating the mean time for periods under HI ≥5 (Tang, et al.). It’s important to understand a Haines Index measure greater than five indicates sporadic fire behavior in the forest based on atmospheric conditions alone. Hence, prognostics from the data advises increasing potential for erratic wildfires to occur. Most frightening, the data proposes the probable increase in duration of such wildfires. Undoubtedly, notions of greater destruction in wildfires in combination with possibility for wildfire’s faster occurrence rate and longer duration is representative of a possible future on a scorched earth.
(“A wildfire near Fawnskin, California. Photo by David McNew / Getty Images) Source: Columbia University Magazine
Forest Effects Resulting from Wildfires
Interestingly enough, the research team under Colorado State University investigates the sporadic wildfires, reporting disturbing implications on the future of such forests. Camille Stevens-Rumann, assistant professor of the Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship at CSU states: “We can expect some areas to likely never become forests again…Others may eventually become more open, less dense forests dominated by a different sort of species” (“Burnt Away”, 2018). Data under cross-regional analysis between Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and Montana extends concerns.
Naturally, forest can regenerate from forest fires if older trees survive for seedlings to reproduce the forest. However, Phillip Higuera, co-author of the study states: “Seedlings are more sensitive to warm, dry, conditions,” with fellow researchers finding no seedlings in one-third of the surveyed area (“Burnt Away”, 2018). Higuera’s statement recalls that natural occurrences are integral to the biodiversity of the forest. However, the decline of seedlings in the aftermath of various forest fires is damaging to the forests, aligning to forewarnings of more devastating wildfires in accordance to previous simulation data.
In turn, it’s feasible to conclude that the worsening climate changes is decaying our forests and will continue to do so. Thus, it is important to be in alliance with communities and organizations helping with restoration of the forests to undo the damage of climate change. The future is grim, but there is still time.
Halofsky, Joshua S., et al. “Climate Change, Wildfire, and Vegetation Shifts in a High-Inertia Forest Landscape: Western Washington, U.S.A.” Plos One, vol. 13, no. 12, 2018, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0209490. http://web.a.ebscohost.com.citytech.ezproxy.cuny.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=12&sid=c97dcb98-d5e0-4b71-bf4f-48b4a106ce66%40sessionmgr4006
Tang, Ying, et al. “The Potential Impact of Regional Climate Change on Fire Weather in the United States.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 105, no. 1, 2014, pp. 1–21., doi:10.1080/00045608.2014.968892. http://web.a.ebscohost.com.citytech.ezproxy.cuny.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=7&sid=c97dcb98-d5e0-4b71-bf4f-48b4a106ce66%40sessionmgr4006
“Burnt Away.” Geographical Magazine Ltd., Feb. 2018, pp. 16–16. http://web.a.ebscohost.com.citytech.ezproxy.cuny.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=5&sid=c97dcb98-d5e0-4b71-bf4f-48b4a106ce66%40sessionmgr4006