Thursday, 14 June 2012

Climate change will boost number of West's wildfires


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Climate change will make wildfires in the West, like those now raging in parts of Colorado and New Mexico, more frequent over the next 30 years, researchers reported on Tuesday.
More broadly, almost all of North America and most of Europe will see an increase in wildfires by the year 2100, the scientists wrote in the journal Ecosphere, a publication of the Ecological Society of America.
The U.S. Southwest - Arizona, New Mexico and Texas - is the fastest-warming region of the United States, and this warming trend will worsen droughts, alter growing seasons and increase wildfire risk, the non-profit research organization Climate Central reported.
On Tuesday, 20 large wildfires were burning in eight Western states, from Idaho and Wyoming to California and Arizona, according to the U.S. Forest Service. A map of active fires is online at http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/ .
Using satellite-based fire records and 16 different climate-change models, an international team of researchers found that while wildfires will increase in many temperate zones due to rising temperatures, fire risk may actually decrease around the equator, especially in tropical rainforests, because of increased rainfall.
"In the long run, we found what most fear - increasing fire activity across large areas of the planet," said lead author Max Moritz of the University of California-Berkeley.
"But the speed and extent to which some of these changes may happen is surprising. These abrupt changes in fire patterns not only affects people's livelihoods, but also they add stress to native plants and animals that are already struggling to adapt to habitat loss," Moritz said in a statement.
Co-author Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University said this study gives a unique global perspective on recent fire patterns and their relationship to climate.
Climate scientists, including those affiliated with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have projected that more frequent wildfires would be likely in a warming world. Other effects of global warming include more severe storms, floods and droughts, these scientists have said.

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