Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Rim Fire: More Evidence of Climate Change

The Rim fire currently engulfing California is the latest example of increasingly destructive wildfires caused by climate change. In the Southern Yosemite area alone there have already been four large fires this summer.

According to Matthew Hurteau, assistant professor of forest resources at Penn State University, warming temperatures, prolonged drought, and a century’s worth of fire suppression policy are “priming the system to make it more flammable.”

California has experienced its driest year in modern history with record-low 4.58 inches of precipitation during the period from January to June 2013. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that is nearly 10 inches below average. A major heat wave in July also added to the dryness of the soil.

Climate change is making wildfires more frequent and more intense. Fires are a natural part of the forest ecology, but climate change is changing the balance and making fires more frequent, more pervasive and more destructive.

The Rim Fire has burned 160,000 acres with about 22,000 of those acres in Yosemite. It is harder for animal and plant species to adapt to this new brand of climate change induced fire. There are a number of plant and animal species under threat, including the iconic giant sequoias. Although sequoias are normally able to withstand forest fires, this hotter type of fire poses a real risk, so much so that sprinkler systems have been set up around some of the giant trees.

Other threatened species include mountain yellow-legged frog, and the rare and endangered Yosemite great gray owl. Dozens of homes have burned down and the fire threatens water and power sources for San Francisco.

The rim fire is yet another example of fires caused by global warming. According to NIFC data, there are more large fires (greater than 10,000 acres) burning now than at any time in the past 40 years, and the total area burned each year has also increased. The top eight worst wildfire years since 1960, in terms of acres burned, have all occurred since 2000.

For more information on the link between forest fires and climate change click here.

© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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