Recent research shows that rampant wildfires will become more prevalent, as global warming continues. The study will be published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), by experts from the University of Wyoming and the University of Granada in Spain.
The analysis was conducted on charcoal samples from 12 lakes around Mount Zirkel Wilderness, near Steamboat Springs in northern Colorado. It was established that 83% of the 385-square mile area had been scorched by devastating wildfires in the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), about 1000 years ago.
During that time, which lasted around 300 years, temperatures rose by less than 1 degree Fahrenheit, and the consequences were still tremendous. In a time span of 2000 years, fire frequency suffered a 260% increase over the MWP period, and only diminished once there were too few trees left to burn.
This suggests that forest fires are directly linked to climate change, and the trend can be identified nowadays as well. Ever since the mid 1980’s, the US has experienced some of the most extensive wildfires in history, such as Yellowstone National Park fires of 1988.
In fact, in the last 15 years, the rise in average temperatures has been even higher than the one recorded in the MWP period. For example, temperatures in the Rocky Mountains have increased by approximately 1.25 degrees in comparison with values recorded in the 20th century.
Therefore it appears that the wildfire trend will continue, and the size of scorched lands could quadruple for every additional 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit in average temperatures.
According to projections, forest fires will actually become even more destructive and prevalent, especially in the Western United States. Such catastrophic phenomena could surpass anything that has been seen in more than a thousand years, researchers warn.
“Even modest regional warming trends (…) can cause exceptionally large areas of the Rockies to be burned by wildfires”, declared John Calder, doctoral candidate of the University of Wyoming.
The findings aren’t exactly surprising however, given that only this year more than 50,000 wildfires were recorded, which burnt over 9 million acres of land in Alaska and the West.
These were the most extensive damages ever since 2006, and the main factor contributing to the blazes was global warming. For example, in Alaska, average temperatures increased by around 3 degrees Fahrenheit in the last half a century.
Researchers now wish to expand their analysis in order to see if they identify the same trends in other mountain ranges as well. The current study focused solely on dense forests located at high altitudes (above 8.000 feet), so it is essential to see if the pattern persists at lower elevations too.
Image Source: Pixabay