Wildfires: An Increasing Sign of Climate Change?
With wildfires rampaging across parts of Alaska, British Columbia and California, we have to stop and truly ask ourselves if this is a huge red flag for climate change. So far this year, 4.4 million acres in Alaska alone have burned so far this year. This season of wildfires is 6th on the list of worst burn seasons to date with it expected to increase to the 5th worst and it is only mid July! Between the Canadian and Alaskan wildfires, over 11 million acres have burned… to add perspective that is 3 times the size of Connecticut.
Some may argue that wildfires are a natural part of the ecosystem and they are. They help clear floor vegetation in forest, provide space for regeneration of new shrubbery and plants for animal habitats and aid in killing off disease that harm vegetation and wildlife.So, what is the big deal about the wildfires we are seeing today? First off, the severity and intensity of the burn is much higher than the natural, cyclical burn when the ecosystem is balanced. Higher spring and summer temperatures and earlier spring snow-melt typically cause soils to be drier for longer, increasing the likelihood of drought and a longer wildfire season, particularly in the western United States.
While severe wildfires have been observed to occur more frequently and this trend is projected to continue throughout the 21st century, it is worth noting that not every year has an equal likelihood of experiencing droughts or wildfires. Natural, cyclical weather occurrences, such as El Niño events, also affect the likelihood of wildfires by affecting levels of precipitation and moisture and lead to year-by-year variability in the potential for drought and wildfires regionally. Nonetheless, because temperatures and precipitation levels are projected to alter further over the course of this century, the overall potential for wildfires in the United States, especially the southern states, is likely to increase as well.
Taking actions to stop climate change like renewable energy technology will aid in decreasing our changes of strengthened wild fires. The environment can return to its natural cyclical process that maintains the health of the world’s forests and ecosystem.