Climate change already accountable for increase of forest fires in the US, new study suggests

By Dominic Kleinknecht
Eberhard-Karls-University Tübingen Germany

Climate change is mostly known for increasing the temperatures on earth. Western US forests saw an increase of 2.5 degrees F of average temperatures since 1970, and temperatures are expected to keep rising. Warmer air can hold more moisture, which dries out the trees, other vegetation, and the soil. For forests, this has considerable negative effects, leading to higher risks of forest fires which led to the number of forest fires in the US West abruptly increasing in the 1980, and the fire season became longer. Since 1984, fires have spread across an additional area of 16,000 square miles - an area larger than the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts combined. The study is the first of its kind to quantify the effects of human-made climate change on forest fires and looked into eight different systems to rate forest aridity to compare them with observations of actual fires and large-scale climate models that estimate the human-made warming. What they found was that the climate’s role of increasing aridity has grown since 2000, and is also projected to continue to do so. The scientists came to the conclusion that 55 percent of the measured increase of fuel aridity causing wildfires could be attributed to human-made warming, although the scientists point out that this is a conservative assumption as their model does not account for other additional factors that are offshoots of climate warming such as the decline in spring soil moisture. With no improvements in sight for the near future, and while climate change will take years to be effectively contained, scientists can only offer one piece of advice for affected people: stay out of the fire’s way.

Source: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University. (2016, October 12). Climate change has doubled Western U.S. forest fires. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 19, 2016 from