Extreme wildfires likely fueled by climate change

Aug 01, 2013
A study led by Michigan State University geographer Lifeng Luo suggests climate change is fueling the larger and more destructive wildfires scorching vast areas of the American West. Credit: Michigan State University

Climate change is likely fueling the larger and more destructive wildfires that are scorching vast areas of the American West, according to new research led by Michigan State University scientists.

These erratic fires are harder to contain and often result in catastrophic damage and loss of property and life. Although not analyzed in the study, the recent Arizona wildfire that began with a and killed 19 firefighters appeared to be such an unpredictable, fast-spreading blaze, according to a state report.

The MSU-led study, which appears in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, predicts the trend will continue in the western United States.

"Our findings suggest that future lower may favor larger and more extreme wildfires, posing an additional challenge to fire and forest management," said Lifeng Luo, MSU assistant professor of geography and lead author on the study.

The researchers analyzed current and future projected by multiple regional climate models and their effect on the spread of fire in a mountainous region that includes Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The study focused on August, the most active month for wildfires in the western United States.

August 2012 saw 3.6 million acres burn in the region, the most of any August since 2000. However, there were only 6,948 fires in August 2012—the second fewest in that 12-year timeframe—meaning the fires were much larger.

Large wildfires are mainly driven by including the availability of fuel (vegetation), precipitation, wind and the location of lightning strikes. In particular, the researchers found that exceptionally dry and unstable conditions in the earth's lower atmosphere will continue contributing to "erratic and extreme ."

"Global climate change may have a significant impact on these factors, thus affecting potential wildfire activity across many parts of the world," the study says.

Explore further: Beijing's focus on coal lost in haze of smog

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Climate change and wildfire: Synthesis of recent findings

May 21, 2013

Concerns continue to grow about the effects of climate change on fire. Wildfires are expected to increase 50 percent across the United States under a changing climate, over 100 percent in areas of the West by 2050 as projected ...

Fires in Idaho

Jul 22, 2013

Forest fires continue to plague the hot, dry western part of the United States this summer. In Idaho, several fires were spotted by NASA's Aqua satellite on July 20, 2013. Actively burning areas, detected ...

NASA scientist: Climate just one factor in wildfires

Jul 06, 2012

(Phys.org) -- It's shaping up to be a fiery summer across the United States. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, as of July 3, 45 large active wildfires are currently burning in 15 states. Combined, ...

Image: Wildfires in Washington State

Sep 21, 2012

The summer of 2012 will unfortunately be known as the "Summer of Devastating Western Wildfires" and practically not one state out west was spared. Washington State has been hardest hit of late. This satellite ...

Recommended for you

Beijing's focus on coal lost in haze of smog

1 hour ago

The soaring, grimy chimneys of the coal-fired power station have belched the last of their choking fumes into Beijing's air, authorities say—but experts doubt the plan will ease the capital's smog.

Stopping the leaks

18 hours ago

When a big old cast-iron water main blows, it certainly makes for a spectacular media event.

Alpine lifelines on the brink

19 hours ago

Only one in ten Alpine rivers are healthy enough to maintain water supply and to cope with climate impacts according to a report by WWF. The publication is the first-ever comprehensive study on the condition ...

User comments : 0