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Wildfires and Climate Change: an Inextricable Link

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Words: 901 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Jul 17, 2018

Words: 901|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Jul 17, 2018

Table of contents

  1. Climate Change: The Ignition
  2. The Alarming Changes in Northern Regions
  3. The Western United States: A Hotspot for Wildfires
  4. Conclusion
  5. References

Climate change is undeniably one of the most pressing challenges facing our planet, and its effects are becoming increasingly evident. While many associate global warming with rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and unusual weather patterns, one of the most intriguing and pertinent climate change indicators is wildfires. The recent devastating wildfires in places like Tennessee serve as a stark reminder that climate change plays a significant role in setting the conditions for these catastrophic events. This essay explores the intricate relationship between wildfires and climate change, demonstrating how rising temperatures, prolonged droughts, and changing vegetation patterns contribute to the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires.

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Climate Change: The Ignition

While climate change may not directly ignite wildfires, it acts as the catalyst that creates the perfect environment for these disasters to thrive. Rising global temperatures, in particular, play a central role in setting the stage for more frequent and severe wildfires. As Angela Fritz, a reporter for The Washington Post, pointed out, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, recently experienced its hottest and driest autumn on record, with the Great Smoky Mountains region suffering from an "exceptional drought" for months. When combined with gusts of wind reaching speeds of 50-80 mph, these conditions become a recipe for disaster, as observed by Gatlinburg Fire Department Chief Greg Miller.

Moreover, regions with boreal forests, such as Alaska, have witnessed a surge in wildfire activity. In 2015, Alaska experienced its second-largest fire season on record, with over 768 fires scorching more than five million acres. Northern regions like Alaska, Russia, and northern Canada are warming at an accelerated pace compared to the global average. This rapid warming leads to the premature melting of snow cover and the early drying out of forests. In some cases, it may even increase lightning strikes, a common ignition source for wildfires. The result is an unprecedented level of wildfire activity.

The Alarming Changes in Northern Regions

The warming of northern regions has profound implications for wildfires. As temperatures rise, the spring snowpack melts prematurely, causing landscapes to become drier earlier in the fire season. To illustrate the gravity of the situation, this year's April snowpack in the Northern Hemisphere was the lowest on record in half a century, according to climatologist David Robinson of Rutgers University. This alarming trend accelerates the onset of fire season, making forests and vegetation more susceptible to ignition.

In regions like Canada and Alaska, data indicates a dramatic increase in the area burned by wildfires in recent decades. Some areas have experienced the most severe fires in the past 10,000 years. Scientists attribute this surge in wildfires to climate change, particularly the early melting of the spring snowpack across the Northern Hemisphere, which leaves the landscape dry for a more extended period, increasing the likelihood of fires.

The Western United States: A Hotspot for Wildfires

The Western United States is another hotspot for wildfires, directly influenced by climate change. California, in particular, experienced its hottest summer on record in recent years, with temperatures more than three degrees above the 20th-century average, as reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Over the past few decades, global warming has significantly impacted wildfire activity in the Western United States.

As temperatures rise, soils and vegetation lose moisture earlier in the spring and retain dryness later in the fall. This extended dry period means that these areas become more susceptible to ignition for more extended periods. Research conducted by fire ecologist Mark Cochrane at South Dakota State University reveals that the average fire weather season, the period when wildfires are most likely to occur, grew by 19 percent from 1979 to 2013. In Southern California, prime fire conditions persisted almost 50 days longer in 2013 than they did in 1979. These statistics clearly demonstrate that climate change is not a mere coincidence; it is the driving force behind the intensification and prolongation of wildfire seasons.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, the link between climate change and wildfires is undeniable. Rising temperatures, prolonged droughts, early snowpack melting, and increased lightning strikes all create the ideal conditions for wildfires to thrive. The consequences are devastating, as witnessed in regions like Tennessee, Alaska, and the Western United States. To mitigate the increasing risks associated with wildfires, it is imperative to address the root cause: climate change. This includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions, transitioning to renewable energy sources, implementing sustainable land management practices, and enhancing wildfire prevention and response measures. Climate change is not a distant threat; it is here and now, and its effects on wildfires are a stark reminder of the urgent need for collective action to protect our planet and future generations.

References

  1. Fritz, A. (2016). Why the Gatlinburg wildfire became unstoppable. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2016/12/01/why-the-gatlinburg-tenn-wildfire-became-unstoppable/
  2. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (n.d.). State of the Climate: National Overview - July 2016. https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/national/201607
  3. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). (2015). Alaska Wildfires Show Signs of Increased Severity. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/85971/alaska-wildfires-show-signs-of-increased-severity
  4. Overpeck, J., & Udall, B. (2010). Dry Times Ahead. Science, 328(5985), 1642-1643.
  5. Balch, J. K., Bradley, B. A., Abatzoglou, J. T., Nagy, R. C., Fusco, E. J., & Mahood, A. L. (2017). Human-started wildfires expand the fire niche across the United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(11), 2946-2951.
  6. Abatzoglou, J. T., & Williams, A. P. (2016). Impact of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire across western US forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(42), 11770-11775.
  7. Cochrane, M. A., & Barber, D. M. (2009). Climate change, human land use and future fires in the Amazon. Global Change Biology, 15(3), 601-612.
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Cite this Essay

Wildfires and Climate Change: An Inextricable Link. (2018, April 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 14, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-multiple-climate-change-indicators-of-global-warming-2/
“Wildfires and Climate Change: An Inextricable Link.” GradesFixer, 13 Apr. 2018, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-multiple-climate-change-indicators-of-global-warming-2/
Wildfires and Climate Change: An Inextricable Link. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-multiple-climate-change-indicators-of-global-warming-2/> [Accessed 14 Jun. 2024].
Wildfires and Climate Change: An Inextricable Link [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Apr 13 [cited 2024 Jun 14]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-multiple-climate-change-indicators-of-global-warming-2/
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