Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Wildfires fanned by invasive grass species

New research indicates that a species of invasive grass is making wildfires in the western US larger, hotter and more frequent.

Scientists say that a variety called cheatgrass dries out and burns more rapidly than other vegetation.

They believe it has fuelled almost 80% of the largest fires in the west over the last 10 years.
Researchers are looking at a range of solutions including using a fungus to attack the grass seed.

Originally transported to the US in soils on board ocean going ships, the noxious, weedy grass continued its journey west in the 1800s with settlers and cattle ranchers.

Smoking grass
The species gets its name because it grows very early and very quickly and then dies, cheating other varieties out of valuable nutrients.

It is widely dispersed throughout the Great Basin of the American west, an area of 600,000 sq km that covers parts of Nevada and Utah, Colorado, Idaho, California and Oregon.

Satellite imagery shows that cheatgrass dominated areas burned more rapidly and more frequently

Scientists have long suspected that it played a key role in wildfires but this report is the most definitive evidence yet. Researchers used satellite imagery from Nasa to compare burnt areas with regions where cheatgrass dominates.

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