Climate models project increase in US wildfire risk

Dec 04, 2012
This shows the Whitewater-Baldy Complex wildfire in Gila National Forest, New Mexico, as it burned on June 6th, 2012. Scientists calculate that high fire years like 2012 are likely occur two to four times per decade by mid-century, instead of once per decade under current climate conditions. Credit: Kari Greer/USFS Gila National Forest

Scientists using NASA satellite data and climate models have projected drier conditions likely will cause increased fire activity across the United States in coming decades. Other findings about U.S. wildfires, including their amount of carbon emissions and how the length and strength of fire seasons are expected to change under future climate conditions, were also presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

Doug Morton of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., presented the new analysis of future U.S. fire activity. The analysis was based on current fire trends and predicted greenhouse gas emissions.

" 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.

The analysis by Morton and colleagues used climate projections, prepared for the Fifth Assessment Report of the United Nations , to examine how dryness, and therefore fire activity, is expected to change.

The researchers calculated results for low and high 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 .

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The U.S. fire season in 2012 was by some measures a record-breaking season. NASA scientist Doug Morton discusses the links between climate and wildfires and the likelihood of seeing more extreme fire events in the future. Credit: NASA

Through August of this year, the U.S. burned area topped 2.5 million hectares (6.17 million acres), according to a fire emissions database that incorporates burned area estimates produced from observations by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer instruments on NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites. That is short of the record 3.2 million hectares (7.90 million acres) burned in 2011, but exceeds the area burned during 12 of the 15 years since record keeping began in 1997. This and other satellite records, along with more refined climate and emissions models, are allowing scientists to tease out new information about fire trends.

"Fire is an inherently global phenomenon, and the only practical way to track large-scale patterns and changes in fire activity is with satellites," says Louis Giglio of the University of Maryland at College Park and Goddard.

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 satellite-based view allowed Williams and his colleagues to quantify how much carbon has been released from fires in the U.S. West. The team used data on fire extent and severity derived from Landsat satellites to calculate how much biomass is burned and killed, and how quickly the associated carbon was released to the atmosphere. The team found 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.

"With the climate change forecast for the region, this trend likely will continue as the western U.S. gets warmer and drier on average," Williams said. "If this comes to pass, we can anticipate increased fire severity and an even greater area burned annually, causing a further rise in the release of carbon dioxide."

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 .

From a fire and emissions management perspective, wildfires are not the entire U.S. fire story, according to research by Hsiao-Wen Lin of the University of California at Irvine. Satellite data show agricultural and prescribed fires are a significant factor and account for 70 percent of the total number of active fires in the continental U.S. Agricultural fires have increased 30 percent in the last decade.

In contrast with wildfires, agricultural and prescribed fires are less affected by climate, especially drought, during the fire season.

"That means there is greater potential to manage fire emissions, even in a future, drier with more wildfires. We need to use cost-benefit analysis to assess whether reductions in agricultural fire emissions—which would benefit public health—would significantly impact crop yields or other ecosystem services," Lin said.

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gregor1
2.6 / 5 (13) Dec 04, 2012
And yet the incidence of wildfires in the US and Canada has decreased over the last 50 years
http://http://hockeyscht...and.html
VendicarD
3 / 5 (12) Dec 04, 2012
Due to active fire suppression by the state.

It is a shame that the U.S. grain belt is reverting to desert, and that Americans will soon be unable to feed themselves.

Howhot
3.4 / 5 (10) Dec 04, 2012
It is a shame that the U.S. grain belt is reverting to desert, and that Americans will soon be unable to feed themselves.

Isn't that the truth! I'm so ashamed of my fellow Americans and their Rush Limpballs school of climate propaganda degrees.

Its to bad gregor1 has one of those degrees. Me, last year was the first forest fire I've ever seen near me. It was during the great drought of 2011. So that one data point indicates wild fires are increasing in the US (using gregor1 logic).

ScooterG
2.1 / 5 (14) Dec 04, 2012
The longer the tree-huggers are in charge of the forests, the more frequent and intense the wildfires will be.

Tree-huggers claim to be able to look *years* into the future with their computer models, but oddly enough cannot learn anything by looking back at their last 60 years of forest mismanagement.

For everyone except tree-huggers, hindsight is 20/20.

But take heart - the bark beetle is doing the work tree-huggers won't do.
gregor1
1.7 / 5 (12) Dec 04, 2012
Due to active fire suppression by the state.

You don't think that is likely to be offset by the increasing human population and thus the increasing likelihood of humans starting fires?
Howhot I love it when you talk dirty. It shows your true colors. You love to stretch regional events to the whole globe don't you? Narcissistic solipsism I'm thinking. If it's in your line of sight it must apply to the entire globe.

Howhot
3.2 / 5 (9) Dec 04, 2012
Howhot I love it when you talk dirty. It shows your true colors. You love to stretch regional events to the whole globe don't you?


I'm just borrowing a technique I learn from you (and the other Rush Lumpballs school of climate change degree holders).
gregor1
2.3 / 5 (9) Dec 04, 2012
[(and the other Rush Lumpballs school of climate change degree holders).
You just get off on calling people names.
Howhot
2.9 / 5 (10) Dec 04, 2012
The longer the tree-huggers are in charge of the forests, the more frequent and intense the wildfires will be.

It takes fuel, and CONDITIONS to make a wildfire. CONDITIONS that are being created by climate change brought about by anthropogenic global warming (ie. CO2 from burning fossil fuels for the past 50 years).

I like trees. I hugged one once after drinking too much Anchor Steam and Rum shots. Trust me, tree hugging isn't for the weak stomach! Haha, oh what a night.

ScooterG says
Tree-huggers claim to be able to look *years* into the future with their computer models,...
Actually we can and do; and guess what? It is not a promising bright and glowing future for your children and grandchildren. It's bleak in fact.

I've not seen a single model that predicts a nice cool climate. Not one. I know you deniers like to deny, but in all seriousness, It's going to be 10, 15 even 25 degrees F hotter across the mid-US that it currently is within the next century.
gregor1
2.5 / 5 (11) Dec 05, 2012


You, a nobody else either, has any way of knowing what the future temperature is likely to be and, like many others, you are in denial of this basic fact. Your beloved holy works- climate models- all show warming because the negative forcings on climate have never been accurately studied. garbage in garbage out I'm afraid. Recent work shows the effects of cloud cover to be strongly negative and the decline in CC for the late 20th cent. to be sufficient to account for all observed warming.
http://hockeyscht...tly.html
StarGazer2011
2.2 / 5 (10) Dec 05, 2012
sigh ... government employees predict doom and hellfire unless we give more money to government employess.
CAGW is so lame; nobody with an IQ about 70 could possibly belive this nonsense anymore. Even politicians and most of the media have realised its stupid and gone mostly quiet about it and they're not real bright.
Howhot
3 / 5 (8) Dec 05, 2012
I want to share with you a image of Saturn's Hexagon pole. It's very impressive.

http://ut-images....ajor.jpg

After you look at that, come back and tell me that climate is not predictable. As complex as the weather is in Saturn's atmosphere, the prevailing forces form *that* surprising structure. Amazing.

You, and nobody else either, has any way of knowing what the future temperature is likely to be and, like many others, you are in denial of this basic fact.


Actually I do climate modeling along with millions of others here:
http://climateprediction.net

It's a unbiased group with real predictions. Our results have been published. There are several models to choose from as well. None of your phoney whatsupBS. No prediction is ever perfect but you certainly can see a trends out to 100 years (after which it looks like an asteroid hitting the earth).

gregor1, I'm not picking just trying to educate.
Howhot
3.3 / 5 (7) Dec 05, 2012
CAGW is so lame; nobody with an IQ about 70 could possibly belive this nonsense anymore.

What is CAGW BTW?

I can't tell what IQ you might have without knowing that.

Well there is more climate modeling than just doing experiments on real data with real changes. We also do experiments.

http://climatepre...eriments

gregor1
2.8 / 5 (9) Dec 05, 2012
Good for you Howhot but models are only as good as the data put in them and we simply do not know all the variables yet. To pretend otherwise is a con. Climate modeling is like masturbation-doing it is fine but don't tell anyone as it may backfire. Every time a prediction is made that fails in the real world your credibility suffers enormously. It's the boy who cried wolf. The louder you scream the less people listen. Modelers must be up the autistic end of the spectrum. Their inability to communicate is truly astounding. The only way forward is to fling of the activist sycophants and start telling the truth. Predictions are only good if you include the uncertainty.
gregor1
2.5 / 5 (11) Dec 05, 2012
To emphasize my point about basic scientific dishonesty
"Climate modelers invariably publish projections of temperature futures without any sort of physical uncertainty bars at all. Here is a very standard example, showing several GCM projections of future arctic surface air temperatures. There's not an uncertainty bar among them."
Read the piece. The compounding uncertainty is so huge the models are basically useless. They predict rises of 3 or 4 degrees with an error of plus or minus 25 degrees C over 40 years! (No wonder they hide this)
http://wattsupwit...believe/
Howhot
3 / 5 (8) Dec 05, 2012
I'm really shocked by the WhatsupBS folks. They must be completly stupid attacking AGW like they do. Every fact and measurement is against them. You gregor1 must be an oil man, or a coal worker. You obviously want to support the hand that feed you.

Signal after signal is going off saying that you are supporting the wrong cause. If its not wildfires, you have this to contend with; explain current events in a cooling world;

http://phys.org/n...ows.html

Then there is this and this and this... but you know what I mean.

The compounding uncertainty is so huge the models are basically useless.
And you know how you unravel that don't you? It's like throwing darts, over and over until you see a pattern. That is how we do it. 138 million models played, and just like the Bell-curve, the most probable event falls withing the "Standard Deviation".

So, given current events over the last 10 years, and computer models showing the same, care to predict the future?
gregor1
2.3 / 5 (9) Dec 05, 2012
So your into conspiracy theories now? Oil company executives don't of course live on planet earth so don't worry about the environment. Oil companies long ago diversified into energy companies and are following the money like everyone else. AGW is the new gold-rush and has become a runaway train. (Why do you think ENRON was pushing the Kyoto protocol). If there was any money contesting this BS the whole thing would have ended in the courts long ago.
As to you link- this is regional and a trend over only 45 years which may be explained by this.
http://hockeyscht...-in.html
Howhot
2.7 / 5 (7) Dec 05, 2012
Oil company executives...
Now that's not the point is it? I just mentioned it because many anti-global-warming types have ties into the oil industry (or coal or gas). It's just a fact. Its not-bad or good, its just a source of bias. You obviously have a bias and I'm trying to understand where it comes from.

AGW is the new gold-rush and has become a runaway train.
You know, if AGW is the biggest gold rush then thank your lucky stars, because the more eyes we have on the subject, the clearer the danger will be and the louder more voices will be, I welcome many eyes. In fact, every climate scientist out there will welcome your eyes. Be prepared for some bloodshot eyes as there is a lot to read.

You know Enron is typical of the Energy Industry as a whole. If the price an be manipulated, it will be manipulated. I'm not saying anything, but Enron was HQ'ed in Texas.

Here is a 2012 computer model:
http://phys.org/n...ire.html
Sanescience
3.6 / 5 (5) Dec 05, 2012
So lets say we fixed CO2 issue by incredible effort in a decade. What would the models say the climate would do?

Humans are changing nearly every aspect of the environment. Cutting down forests, redirecting all fresh water to mostly evaporate instead of enter the ocean, paving over large swaths of land, depopulating the top food chain on land and sea, airplanes injecting water into the dry high altitudes.

And of course the human population itself continues to grow. And worse grow unevenly with the modernized world static or declining, and developing countries continuing their geometric growth rate.

But those are "hard" problems. Hard to understand, and hard to address. I fear that AGW is "popular" because people like the simplicity of it. We devote our effort to it despite the possible irrelevance of it because populations of people will fall back to burning fossil fuels in a heart beat if their standard of living depends on it. And it will as populations continues to rise.
ScooterG
1 / 5 (4) Dec 05, 2012
It takes fuel, and CONDITIONS to make a wildfire. CONDITIONS that are being created by climate change brought about by anthropogenic global warming (ie. CO2 from burning fossil fuels for the past 50 years). [\q]

Partially correct.

Our forests are way overgrown. It seems trees are a hundred feet tall, three inches in diameter, and planted on a three foot grid. Virtually no sunlight hits the forest floor, so not much grows there. We have three hundred trees growing in a space that would ideally support only one. Very little wildlife can live there.

The tall, weak, spindly trees we have developed snap easily under snow load or avalanche. When an old tree topples, it takes a hundred smaller trees with it. We have an exorbitant amount of deadfall.

It's all fuel for fire. When we enter a drought period (which is entirely normal), the forest is nothing but kindling waiting for a spark. When we get that spark, the fire is too hot to handle, and everything is destroyed.
ScooterG
1.4 / 5 (5) Dec 05, 2012
my edit failed - sorry

Modernmystic
1.3 / 5 (3) Dec 05, 2012
Due to active fire suppression by the state.

It is a shame that the U.S. grain belt is reverting to desert, and that Americans will soon be unable to feed themselves.



He said the INCIDENCE of wildfires, not their extent or damage. Unless you think the state has a forest ranger on every square meter of national forest stamping out sparks before they become fires...
rubberman
3 / 5 (4) Dec 05, 2012
Not to worry kids, at the rate of burning listed above the western forests will be gone inside of 50 years, the only survivors will be the Alpine and eastern forests...unless of course anybody does any logging for construction or pulp and paper production. Given the length of time it takes to regrow forest under optimum conditions, there will be alot of clear land for.....SOLAR FARMS! (link below shows forest coverage)

http://www.nation...est.html

Sane, the reason we focus on it (AGW) is that halting it, by default, can mitigate alot of the other "hard" problems as well.
Sanescience
3 / 5 (2) Dec 06, 2012
Rubberman wrote:
Sane, the reason we focus on it (AGW) is that halting it, by default, can mitigate alot of the other "hard" problems as well.

Lets say via an incredibly unrealistic chance fusion is developed and eliminates all CO2 emissions for power and transportation in ten years. Ignoring the effect of limitless energy on consumption of natural resources perhaps being worse than CO2 pollution...

How does that change any of the issues I cited (water usage, city and road pavement, depopulating the top food chain, etc., etc.)

Maybe you could give an example for clarity.



gregor1
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 06, 2012
Oil company executives...
Now that's not the point is it? I just mentioned it because many anti-global-warming types have ties into the oil industry (or coal or gas). It's just a fact. Its not-bad or good, its just a source of bias. You obviously have a bias and I'm trying to understand where it comes from.

Howie you used it because you like to smear people who present evidence. If there is a problem with climate the only way we have of solving it is by good objective science. The clowns of the UN are after one hundred billion dollars a year from the developed World by way of reparations. Their incentive to Spin the results of models is huge.
You notion that with models, if you throw enough mud at a wall some of it will eventually stick does not absolve you of the need to publish the uncertainty in your results. We need brutal honesty more than ever. Without it the public will turn against you we get nowhere. Spin is the enemy of science.

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