The blazing wildfires that have engulfed the Western United States recently have been tied to global warming in a new study stemming from the University of Wyoming.
Wildfires have been more frequent during the past years than at any other point in recorded history. Land was violently burned, millions of acres scorched, vegetation, biodiversity and communities have all been affected.
The discussion on whether this recent uptick could be related to global warming has been ongoing. Now, the new study, co-authored by John Calder, Ph.D. candidate with the University of Wyoming pinpoints the unquestionable link between global warming and the increase in wildfires.
According to the research findings, only a small uptick in global temperature may lead to havoc and blazing wildfires. Particularly, only a 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit increase may lead to an uptick in wildfires at higher elevations. If global warming continues at this pace, wildfires will become an increasingly common occurrence, but at an increase that hasn’t been witnessed in over 1,000 years.
All across the United States, 50.000 wildfires have been spreading their blaze in 2015 alone. In the Western United States and Alaska, over 9 million acres have been scorched in the process. This is the highest record since 2006. Alaska might seem like an odd place for wildfires to take place. Yet, with an increase of 3 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years, global warming is certainly taking its toll.
How did the researchers reach the conclusion that global warming lead to an unprecedented spike in high-elevation wildfires?
The research team collected and analyzed charcoal samples indicative of 2,000 years of wildfires. All of the samples were collected from the lake beds of one subalpine forest located on Mount Zirkel Wilderness, in the vicinity of Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
By analyzing the charcoal samples, the researchers were able to establish how frequent wildfires were during a similar global warming period, coined the Medieval Climate Anomaly.
This period, spanning 1,200 to approximately 1,200 years ago was characterized by average temperatures that scored 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the previous century in Colorado. Before the Medieval Climate Anomaly, wildfires burnt 83 percent of the sites under analysis, while the previous century, only 50 percent of them were found to have been prey to the blazes.
The sites that were affected by wildfires were found to be prey to the blaze every 360 years on average prior to the Medieval Climate Anomaly. Afterwards, they were burnt every 120 years. When temperatures started to cool, a decline occurred as well.
According to John Calder:
“When we look into the past for evidence of these large wildfires we only see them one times when temperatures rose about 1°F. Our study then adds more evidence that the recent increase in wildfires in the last 2,000 years is when we had a similar amount of warming”.
While this study only covers one mountain range and high-elevation incidence of wildfires, it is the first of its kind. According to Calder, he would like to keep looking into the matter, analyzing different sites as well and establishing the relation between wildfires and global warming.
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