Wildfires and climate change
Two research scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies have recently concluded a study showing that climate change could likely become the principal driver for future wildfires if current CO2 levels continue to rise unabated.
Since the start of the industrial revolution, human activity – such as setting and suppressing wildfires – has been a primary driver in wildfire trends. Using new techniques to track fires, researchers Olga Pechony and Drew Shindell have developed the first long-term history of global wildfire patterns and trends. Using the historical information and satellite data, the team has forecasted fire trends to 2100, based on current and expected levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The study finds that without significant reductions of carbon, climate change will become the principal driver of wildfires in the coming decades, with rising temperatures and drought leading to a propensity of more intense and frequent fires.
Pechony and Shindell said that wildfire trends will vary regionally (as is to be expected), with decreases in some areas and increases from 5 to 35 percent in others – particularly in the western and southern United States, Australia, northern parts of Asia, and the southern tip of Africa.
Given this evidence, Pachony suggests increased awareness and education about wildfires are a prudent course of action:
“It’s likely that we will not only have to reduce emissions, but also improve strategies to prevent and suppress fires,” she said.
The research was published last month in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences