Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Climate Change Fueling Wildfires in North America and Russia

Wildfires fueled by record heat have ravaged areas across North America and Russia this year. This year is very much like last year. However, the western fires of 2015, were not as widespread and they came later than they did this year. 

There is strong evidence that global warming has lengthened wildfire seasons. This research is corroborated by recent observations in North America and Russia. Across the continent warm temperatures are melting snowpacks, exacerbating droughts and contributing to the number and size of wildfires. Heat is an important catalyst for forest fires and temperatures continue to soar. Even before the start of summer Phoenix hit a sweltering 127 degree F [or 53 C]. Heat records are being broken in many states and in parts of Southern California temperatures exceeded 120 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius).

In California a number of fires are raging including one in the Santa Barbara region which has burned almost 10,000 acres. Near Albuquerque, New Mexico a total of more than 20,000 acres have burned and north of Phoenix a fire has consumed more than 26,000 acres. A number of other fires are also burning in Utah and Nevada.

Canada is also contending with a slew of forest fires. In May there was the massive Fort McMurray fire in Alberta. A number of forest fires are also destroying vast swaths of land in Quebec and Ontario. The city of Greenstone North of Thunder Bay declared a state of emergency and was preparing for a Fort McMurray style evacuation. In Nova Scotia hot temperatures have put most of the province at very very high risk. There are fires burning in North Preston and in Halifax.

The Guardian reports that a large number of forest fires are also burning in Russia. Although official estimates state that 669,000 hectares have succumbed to wildfires so far in 2016. However, a Greenpeace analysis of satellite data reveals that 3.5m hectares have burned this year. To put these numbers into perspective, the massive forest fires around Fort McMurray in May, destroyed around 580,000 hectares.

"WWF forestry expert Alexander Bryukhanov said under-reporting meant that the annual extent of forest fires in the US and Canada are regularly double that in Russia, which has twice as much forest."

The fact that the Russian government hides the real data on forest fires suggests that they are reluctant to admit to the growth in fires for fear that people will call for climate action.

In Russia there is also a connection between heat and wildfires. The frequency of Russian forest fires there has increased 30-50 percent in the last 20-30 years. The Russian heatwave of 2010, which cost the nation $15 billion, was made three times more likely by climate change.

According to one study climate change will cause the cost of combating wildfires to exceed $62 billion annually by 2050.

Forest fires are not only destructive and costly, they are directly responsible for respiratory illnesses and deaths.

Video - The Relationship Between Climate Change & Wildfires
Climate Change Fueling Forest Fires in the North American West (July 2015)
Indonesian Fires of 2015 the Worst Environmental Crime of the 21st Century (Video)
We Need to Ask Why Fort McMurray is Burning
Fort McMurray Fire Post Mortem: Forest Fires, Climate Change and Fossil Fuels (Videos)
Wildfires Peat and Carbon
The Dangerous Feedback Loop Between Forest Fires and Climate Change
Climate Change Induced Wildfires Burn Out of Control in Southern California
Australia's Devastating Fires are Linked to Climate Change
Video - How Climate Change Fuels Wildfires

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