If you think climate change has no correlation with wildfires, think again! Scientists using NASA satellite data and climate models have found that drier climates, courtesy of global warming, will result in increased fires across the United States over the next few decades.
Doug Morton of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and his colleagues used current fire trends and predicted greenhouse gas emissions. They presented the new analysis of future U.S. fire activity for the Fifth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“Climate models project an increase in fire risk across the U.S. by 2050, based on a trend toward drier conditions that favor fire activity and an increase in the frequency of extreme events,” Morton said in a press release.
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The researchers calculated results for low and high greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. In both cases, results suggest more fire seasons that are longer and stronger across all regions of the U.S. in the next 30-50 years. Specifically, high fire years like 2012 would likely occur two to four times per decade by mid-century, instead of once per decade under current climate conditions.
As the U.S. land area burned by fire each year has increased significantly in the past 25 years, so too have the emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions from wildfires in the western U.S. have more than doubled since the 1980s, according to Chris Williams of Clark University in Worcester, Mass. The team found carbon emissions from fires have grown from an average of 8 teragrams (8.8 million tons) per year from 1984 to 1995 to an average of 20 teragrams (22 million tons) per year from 1996 to 2008, increasing 2.4 times in the latter period.
Researchers expect a drier and more wildfire-prone U.S. in future decades. Previous research confirmed the connection between the measure of an environment’s potential evaporation, or dryness, and fire activity.