redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
The larger, more destructive wildfires devastating some regions of the western US could be fueled by climate change, according to new research appearing in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology.
These erratic fires are more difficult to contain, as well as more dangerous to people living in the area and likely to cause catastrophic damage, lead author and Michigan State University assistant professor of geography Lifeng Luo and his colleagues said.
Furthermore, they predict the trend is likely to continue.
As Luo said Thursday in a statement, “Our findings suggest that future lower atmospheric conditions may favor larger and more extreme wildfires, posing an additional challenge to fire and forest management.”
Using multiple regional climate models, the study authors studied both current and future climate patterns and their impact on the spread of fire in the mountainous region that includes Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
They focused their efforts on the month of August, which is the most active time period for wildfires in the western US. They discovered 3.6 million acres burned in the area during August 2012 – more than any August in a dozen years. However, there were only 6,948 fires last August – the second fewest since 2000. That means the fires were much larger than usual.
The increased size of the wildfires is mainly driven by natural factors, such as the availability of fuel (vegetation), precipitation, wind and the location of lightning strikes, the researchers explained. Specifically, they found extremely dry and unstable conditions in the earth’s lower atmosphere will continue contributing to “erratic and extreme fire behavior.”
Furthermore, Luo and co-authors Ying Tang and Shiyuan Zhong from Michigan State, and Xindu Bian and Warren Heilman from the US Forest Service also wrote, “global climate change may have a significant impact on these factors, thus affecting potential wildfire activity across many parts of the world.”
In related news, research published earlier this month in the journal Nature Communications revealed wildfires could be playing a greater role in global warming than experts had previously believed. In fact, the study revealed carbonaceous aerosols produced during the massive 2011 Las Conchas fire in New Mexico could have been quite different from those featured in current computer simulations.
As a result, the information provided by those computer climate models could be inaccurate. Based on their findings, the study authors believe that scientists need to establish a framework to include a realistic representation of these carbon-containing particles in climate models. Furthermore, they suggest that wildfire emissions could contribute far more to global warming trends than current estimates suggest.