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Earth Science

Studies: Wildfires Worse Due To Global Warming 379

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-getting-hot-in-here dept.
An anonymous reader writes "According to scientists we can look forward to more devastating wildfires like the ones scorching Southern California because of global warming. "The fires in California and here in Arizona are a clear example of what happens as the Earth warms, particularly as the West warms, and the warming caused by humans is making fire season longer and longer with each decade," said University of Arizona geoscientist Jonathan Overpeck. "It's certainly an example of what we'll see more of in the future.""
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Studies: Wildfires Worse Due To Global Warming

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Global Warming is the nickname of the guy who started the fires.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @05:12PM (#47033775)

    Any time someone says "look how bad winter was" they are (rightfully) chided for treating a variation in weather as being "climate".

    Well who does not remember years and years of past California wildfires. Guess what, drought happens. You can't declare one "climate change" just because it's scary.

    And you can't even see that climate change makes drought more likely without way more data than we have. A warmer climate could mean some areas are dryer, others wetter. But actually overall it would mean more moisture in the system, not less...

    • by bunratty (545641) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @05:31PM (#47033905)

      I can see that for years climatologists have been saying that drought-stricken areas will become even drier [washingtonpost.com] with more warming. And according to the article there has been a three-decade pattern of fires getting worse in the West: "Since 1984, the area burned by the West's largest wildfires — those of more than 1,000 acres — have increased by about 87,700 acres a year, according to an April study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters."

      One winter is not a long-term pattern. Something that gets worse over the course of decades, in contrast, is a long-term pattern.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Kohath (38547)

        Did global warming also cause the fact that there weren't any wildfires last month?

        • by bunratty (545641) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @05:59PM (#47034073)
          Is a period of one month: a) short-term, or b) long-term?
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Kohath (38547)

            A month lasts longer than a fire. How about we just stop pretending singular events like fires are climate?

            • by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @06:12PM (#47034129) Homepage Journal

              We don't, do we? We measure the number of them, and their severity, over a period of months.

            • by bunratty (545641)
              In terms of climate, anything shorter than a decade is short-term. And no one is calling a singular event climate. Climate is the average weather over a period of decades. The increasing wildfires over the past several decades in the Southwest are a result of increasing temperatures and drought conditions over decades. That's climate change.
              • by jackspenn (682188) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @11:22PM (#47035585)
                Are you sure the more frequent larger fires aren't actually the result of past fire prevention? I know some fire fighters and park rangers who told me that policy changes in the 90s prevented them from letting small fires go naturally (these fires weren't even important enough to make the national news). Instead the policy was modified to "Put all observed fires out ASAP." In addition they were banned from removing brush that would normally have been consumed by these smaller fires. I remember them saying that if not changed the policies would lead to bigger fires in the future. A sorta pay for it later mess. So my question is, if it is fair to say many "Scientist" claim fire increases are because of "climate change", is it not fair to say there are "Philosophers" who reason fire increases are because of "bureaucratic BS"?
            • And where do you get your information? A wildfire may not be burning above-ground, but the fire can continue underneath the topsoil. Forest fires are not considered "out" until they have been thoroughly soaked with water over a period of months. In the Sierras, that's after the first big snowstorm of the season. Snow captures the heat and melts, and the resulting water will go into the root tunnels and snuff what's left of the fire. And the loss of coverage *can* affect climate, but only in a local are
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Well, global warming probably contributed to these fires.

          After all, the globe usually warms once a year, usually in the spring season.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by tmosley (996283)
        Yeah, but California has ALWAYS been drier than it was for the last century. 500 year droughts were not uncommon. Using a drought in the fucking Sahara as evidence for your theory shows that your methodology is very, very flawed, and should bring closer scrutiny. But it doesn't, because the field is 100% politicized and no-one is REALLY interested in science.
      • We haven't had a "large dump" on California since 1969! 2+ years of a lack of sunspots brought the US a very hard winter.

        The Eastern Pacific bulge of hot water on the equator looks like it might spawn another "Pineapple Express".

        Some geophysists say the sediment record shows that a mega-dump like occurred in 1862 in CA & OR could dump 11 feet of water on CA in about a month.

        Will that be "climate change", given that it happens every 40 or 160 years on known cycles?

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]

        • by riverat1 (1048260)

          Yes, with the El Nino chances are the California drought will be broken next winter. That doesn't do them much good for the next 5 months.

      • So you don't think Forest Service land management (or the lack thereof) has anything to do with it? Because the timeframe for increasingly bad fires matches up really nicely with changes in approach to doing so...

      • ... according to the article there has been a three-decade pattern of fires getting worse in the West:

        And the reason for that is well known, and has nothing to do with global warming.

        It is caused by environmentalist interference in land management. The major factors are;
        - Fuel load: Logging is stopped, or delayed for decades by lawsuits, even of diseased and fallen trees, which are left to rot. Brush clearing, deemed "unnatural", is also stopped. LOTS of little trees and weeds grow up between th

        • by pspahn (1175617)

          There is a larger picture than you are seeing. Consider the Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) and this interesting bit from Colorado State University:

          Extreme cold temperatures also can reduce MPB populations. For winter mortality to be a significant factor, a severe freeze is necessary while the insect is in its most vulnerable stage; i.e., in the fall before the larvae have metabolized glycerols, or in late spring when the insect is molting into the pupal stage. For freezing temperatures to affect a large number of larvae during the middle of winter, temperatures of at least 30 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) must be sustained for at least five days.

          Yes, these trees are susceptible to MPB because of the reason you state (over crowding, more stressed, etc). I don't disagree with that. But you cannot overlook the fact that winters simply haven't been killing these bugs the way that has been done in the past. Less frequent cold snaps means more beetles able to kill more trees that are already stressed which leads t

    • by perpenso (1613749) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @06:07PM (#47034103)
      First off, I am *not* a climate change denier.

      That said, wildfires are a very complicated topic and man is responsible for their increased size and devastation. However the man made activity that has a huge impact here is fire fighting. This has been known for many decades. The problem is that the natural cycle of fires leads to smaller fires. These smaller fires prevent fuel from accumulating and they provide a patchwork of natural firebreaks to a degree. Our habit of stomping out every single fire as it starts just leads to more and more fuel accumulating over larger and larger areas. The result is the larger and more devastating fires.

      Preventing the natural burn cycle sets us up for larger fires. We need to be more strategic about our fire fighting in rural and wilderness settings.
      • by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki@gmail. c o m> on Sunday May 18, 2014 @06:46PM (#47034323) Homepage

        Preventing the natural burn cycle sets us up for larger fires. We need to be more strategic about our fire fighting in rural and wilderness settings.

        Great idea, back in the 80's when I used to visit Socal, they'd burn out the hills every summer. Worked like a charm to keep the fires down, then the environmentalists, idiots with the mansions in the hills, and nimby's started throwing a hissy fits on every pro-active burn program out there. Everything from "it's making the air bad," to "it's not natures way."

      • No-One is a "Denier" (Score:2, Interesting)

        by SuperKendall (25149)

        First off, I am *not* a climate change denier.

        Of course the climate is changing. The real question is are the changes such that we need to try and implement measures to stop them?

        Articles like this are from the Warmists, wishing to use tools of Fear to scare us into thinking that we must.

        But you yourself note in this aspect a rational reason why we need not be more scared of forest fires because of climate change, when more sensible fire policy would have a far more dramatic impact.

        Now think of all the OTH

      • by riverat1 (1048260)

        Larger fires because of larger fuel loads doesn't preclude global warming from also having an effect. It's not an either/or thing.

    • But actually overall it would mean more moisture in the system, not less...

      Exactly, and you know what, water vapor in the atmosphere has been steadily rising since ~1980. However just because there is an increase of water vapor on a global scale does not mean droughts will not become more common on a regional scale. More rain in the tropics actually implies the deserts to on either side of the tropics will widen and become drier. Yes it's "counter intuitive", but not nearly as hard to wrap your head around as (say) quantum mechanics. Google "Hadley cells" for a more technical expl

    • by hey! (33014)

      Any time someone says "look how bad winter was" they are (rightfully) chided for treating a variation in weather as being "climate".

      But that's not what he's saying. He's saying that the kind of weather S. California has had in the last few months will be more common in the future, which *is* a statement about climate. He's saying that the acreage burned by wildfire has increased steadily over the last thirty years, which is also a statement about climate (albeit indirect).

      He did not say "the fires this year prove that climate is warming", or any of discouragingly braindead kinds of things you hear coming out of the denialist echo chamb

  • by drainbramage (588291) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @05:14PM (#47033783)

    We would like to give our heartiest thanks to the politicians that have made it illegal to clear under-brush or to provide any reasonable wildfire suppression activities.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      But try letting fires burn to clear underbrush when politically-connected people build million dollar homes in the same forests. It suddenly becomes much tougher.

    • But clearing the underbrush causes CO2 to be produced causing temperatures to rise...

      • Clearing the underbrush can *reduce* the amount of CO2 to be produced. Pull and chip that brush, don't burn it. Use the chips as ground cover to better protect seeds and hold water, both which promote good tree growth. Chips can be used in playgrounds instead of sand or dirt, particular chips from softwood brush. When my father was in the forest service, they cleared out brush "by hand"; the only time they lit any fires was when they needed to set a backfile to halt or steer a moving path of flame.
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Pino Grigio (2232472)
      Precisely the problem. The Greens have prevented the kind of land management you need in order to prevent brushfires spreading. The end result? More , bigger and more deadly brushfires. Crazy loons.
      • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday May 18, 2014 @08:59PM (#47035011) Homepage Journal

        Precisely the problem. The Greens have prevented the kind of land management you need in order to prevent brushfires spreading.

        This is a bunch of ignorant cockery. The rich have prevented etc etc. They're the ones who buy the big spreads in the hills and then sue to prevent anyone from carrying out controller burns which might affect their views. And they're the ones who buy the laws which control the building codes which permit people to build flammable homes in the middle of a forest in the first place, which is just goddamned ignorant. We have many different kinds of homes which are not vulnerable to forest fire with adequate clearing including compressed straw bale (the straw is compressed, and covered with stucco) and earth bag, to name two of the cheapest with the least environmental impact. The greens would love to build homes like that, but they typically aren't permitted to by building codes.

  • No, no it's not. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Etcetera (14711)

    First of all, it's "climate change" now and not "global warming"... some spots are having much cooler temperatures instead.

    Secondly, droughts happen. The history of California is the history of water politics mainly because most of SoCal is a semi-arid desert. San Diego in particular has a giant desert separating us from the rest of the country -- even LA.

    Thirdly, unless you've just moved to San Diego, you're quite aware of the 2003 and 2007 fires. These were (also) not the result of global warming.

    Fourthly

    • by gmuslera (3436) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @05:42PM (#47033973) Homepage Journal

      Climate change is consequence of global warming. And that "warming" is not one that you would easily notice (a few tenths of degrees in the average global temperature each year), but still have effects everywhere, including (and changing) the climate. And if you want, that warming is caused in a good degree by human activity, incrementing the percent of some greenhouse gases (like CO2) in the atmosphere. And it have more consequences than just incrementing temperature, like ocean acidification.

      How you make people aware of slow, hard to notice small changes in global trends? Pointing out some of the most visible consequences as they are being discovered/correlated etc. If i tell you that CO2 in atmosphere increased a 100% and you see the air around you normal, you won't worry about it. If i tell you that the average global temperature increased 1-2 C, you see local weather events, see that nothing really big changed (or worse, that in some regions were colder than in other years) and still won't care/do anything about it. So the effort is showing you that there are visible things that hits you that are consequences of those otherwise hard to see (in a short time span, in a narrow geographical sense) trends.

      • (Accidentally posting as AC, so, reposting)

        Are there any positive impacts from global warming/climate change/climate disruption/what have you? Ever single consequence that I ever see people talking about is negative--drought, fire, sea level rise, spread of disease, extinction, etc.

        Are there any possible positives looking ahead?

        • by rHBa (976986)
          Unlikely for our species, the cockroaches on the other hand...
          • You mean other than the news that production has increased, biodiversity is on the increase and so forth?
          • by BitZtream (692029)

            Contrary to what you may think, cockroaches depend on humans for survival on most of the planet. They only survive in tiny band of regions.

            Cockroaches would take a hell of a population hit if humans didn't exist to feed them and provide heat/air conditioning for them to thrive.

        • Re: No, no it's not. (Score:5, Informative)

          by Namarrgon (105036) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @06:54PM (#47034393) Homepage

          Sure. Look at the IPCC AR5 WGII report, it discusses benefits as well as costs.

          It's just that the costs and risks appear to greatly outweigh the benefits, or the benefits are long-term enough that the short-term costs of adaption will outweigh them for a very long time.

        • by gmuslera (3436)

          The problem of changes is when you depend on things that requires stability, like, i.e. agriculture. Farming requires that for a lot of time (i.e. a whole year) you won't have floods, drizzles, hailstorms, droughts and so on. And if well we can cope with losing isolated crops, if that becomes widespread a lot of people will die, and in a not pleasant way exactly.

          But yes, could be upsides from that changes. Eventually we will reach a new balance. Life will prevail in a way or another. And one of the most d

        • by gtall (79522)

          The Conservatives and Libertarians get to eat crow?

      • Re:No, no it's not. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by gtall (79522) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @07:20PM (#47034533)

        "How you make people aware of slow, hard to notice small changes in global trends?"

        Ans: pay attention to Miami. The city administration is making plans for sea level rise. It isn't because they expect it, it is because it is already happening and costing them money. There are similar problems in Norfolk, but there the county Republicans have passed resolutions saying it isn't happening, so they don't have to do anything. The Navy, however, with a big base there, is making plans. Hmmm...the Navy? Those clear-eyed sailors of the ocean blue...whose job it is to understand the seas...who spend a lot of money on oceanography and just about everything that effects their operation...them? Yup. It seems they have no problems with assessing climate change and are even attempting to do their part and develop propulsion systems that do not add carbon to the atmosphere. And who would oppose that? Why those scientists who are masquerading as Republicans in Congress. It seems they are upset at the Navy for not declaring carbon is not a problem and they should sit on their arses while the basis of their operation is changing.

        • by 517714 (762276)
          Florida's problem IS man made, but it isn't rising sea levels, it is that they built canals to drain the water and now they have compounded the natural subsidence of the land that has been ongoing for tens of thousands of years, with the man made subsidence due to water extraction. Most of the East coast is sinking at a rate that exceeds the predicted rise due to melting ice and warming water. Norfolk is near the site of a meteor impact 35 million years ago that is responsible for its faster rate of subsi
          • by riverat1 (1048260)

            You just keep believing that. Meanwhile global sea level is up over 2 inches since 2000. When you're only a few feet above sea level to begin with that's significant. Subsidence just makes it worse.

    • Re:No, no it's not. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dorianny (1847922) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @06:07PM (#47034101) Journal

      First of all, it's "climate change" now and not "global warming"... some spots are having much cooler temperatures instead.

      Global warming refers to the rise of the average temperature of Earth's climate system. The effect of global warming is climate change, a change in global or regional climate patterns.

    • by BobandMax (95054)
      Yes, and I remember some really strong "Santa Ana" conditions (like the one in which these recent human-set fires occurred) in the late seventies when we were said to be slipping into a new Ice Age. Global Warming / Climate Change / Climate Disruption is terribly convenient. You can blame or explain everything within its context.
    • Re:No, no it's not. (Score:5, Informative)

      by CanadianRealist (1258974) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @07:31PM (#47034583)

      Fourthly, there's good reason to believe that at least some of the ones this week were started by (d-bag) arsonists.

      The claim is that climate change is making the fires worse. That's very different than the question of how any one fire started.

      Your argument is like pointing to a smoker killed in a car crash and saying "see, cigarettes don't cause cancer."

      Maybe someone did start some of the fires. That's happened in the past as well. The real question is, are the fires worse now? From the article: in the 80's an average of 2.9 million acres burned each year, from 2010 to 2013 it was 6.4 million acres per year. That sounds quite a bit worse. Maybe the last few years were just unlucky years, or maybe the fires really are getting worse.

      Maybe it's statements like yours from "non-scientists" arguing issues other than the ones raised that are confusing things.

    • Yes, yes it is. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      First of all, it's "climate change" now and not "global warming"... some spots are having much cooler temperatures instead.

      It's still global warming, in spite of republican efforts to relabel it climate change. Stop prevaricating.

      Secondly, droughts happen.

      Red herring. That's totally orthogonal to this point. Stop prevaricating. Also, the current drought is unusual even in Northern California, where the water comes from. You didn't even bother to mention that, most likely because it's inconvenient to your point. Stop prevaricating.

      unless you've just moved to San Diego, you're quite aware of the 2003 and 2007 fires. These were (also) not the result of global warming.

      This is about global warming making wildfires more likely and worse, not about global warming making wildfires possible. Stop

    • by mathfeel (937008)

      Thirdly, unless you've just moved to San Diego, you're quite aware of the 2003 and 2007 fires. These were (also) not the result of global warming.

      I remember both of those cases well: classes are cancelled for a week, because they occurred during Fall semester in September/October. This one is in May. Having a longer fire season is exactly what the OP is stating.

  • by Zargg (1596625) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @05:27PM (#47033871)

    Make the ice caps melt faster, flood San Diego to put the fires out!

  • Here is the list [numberwatch.co.uk].

  • by weiserfireman (917228) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @05:42PM (#47033971) Homepage

    Every year there are devastating fires somewhere. But we have to look at the acreage and number of fires.

    Last year was a light fire year. About 20% lighter than the 10 year average.

    So far this year, we are about 15% behind the 10 year average in the number of wildland fires. And we are about 50% behind in the number of acres burned.

    http://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/n... [nifc.gov]

    Honestly, I still expect overall the world's climate will be getting wetter with global warming. There might be some regions that will get drier, but warmer oceans mean more evaporation. Warmer temperatures mean the air can hold more moisture resulting in higher humidity. Eventually that higher humidity has to result in more rainfall somewhere. But even if higher humidity doesn't result in rain, higher humidity does result in less aggressive fire behavior.
          I am not a climate scientist. I have a lot of people scoff at me when I say this, but they never explain how I am wrong. I can read the projections but the projections never seem to include the increased levels of ocean evaporation that I expect.

  • Okay, so I accept that the expansive worsening of fire season may be at least in part caused by global warming, climate change, or whatever we are calling it this week. But I squarely point my finger at the logging industry and decades of mismanaging re-forestation as a substantial contributor that is just now catching up with us.
  • Let's make a deal (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417)

    Let's make a deal, global warming (or climate change, or whatever the buzzword of the week) deniers: You can keep your SUVs, your ACs turned to 60 degrees and all your other toys. And once the waters rise you drown like good old idiots and don't try to climb up on my mountains.

    Deal?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Let's make a deal, global warming (or climate change, or whatever the buzzword of the week) deniers: You can keep your SUVs, your ACs turned to 60 degrees and all your other toys. And once the waters rise you drown like good old idiots and don't try to climb up on my mountains.

      I don't own an SUV and I have yet to turn my AC on this year and I live 650 miles away from the nearest ocean and I still think this article is utter bullshit. Failed forest management policies cause wildfires. End of story. Any signal from the climate is completely overwhelmed by the policies of clowns who think the "natural" way is by definition better.

      Who trusted God was love indeed
      And love Creation's final law
      Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
      With ravine, shriek'd against his creed

      —Alfred Lord Tennyson

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Opportunist (166417)

        I'm done arguing. I tried to reason, it failed. Believe what you want, for all I care. I'd even not give a shit if I had a spare planet to retreat to, unfortunately, I don't.

        So all I want now is the green light to shoot to kill if those that will be flooded try to climb up my mountains to reach dry land. Nothing more.

        • So all I want now is the green light to shoot to kill if those that will be flooded try to climb up my mountains to reach dry land.

          You sound like a sane person.

    • by PPH (736903)

      don't try to climb up on my mountains.

      Don't even look at the carbon footprint of people who live in the mountains or in rural areas. Or spend time on recreation there. It's huge.

      If you have any respect for the environment, you'll move into a small apartment in a high rise in a city. You'll use mass transit and resources on your own city block. You'll never travel outside the city limits. Forget about mountain climbing, hiking, skiing, etc.

  • Bullshit. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Karmashock (2415832) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @06:42PM (#47034309)

    As someone that has been in regions where these wildfires have happened, I can tell you it is actually bad forest management.

    Here's the thing. In nature, forests burn on occasion. Always have. Its part of the natural process. Some species either actively encourage the fires or rely upon the fires as part of their life cycle.

    Okay, now that it is established that if left alone the forests will occasionally burn... what happens if you don't cut trees down and cut brush back on occasion and instead just leave the whole thing to take care of itself.

    It burns.

    I live in California and that has been the cause of most of our wild fires. We used to have forest management to the extent that we would subcontract logging companies to go through the forests and thin them out a bit so there was room for new growth and the whole forest didn't go up like a roman candle every 10-30 years (depends on the plant species and local climate).

    Well, that was stopped and the logging companies aren't allowed to operate in our forests anymore because they're not environmentally friendly.

    Fine... you're now putting nature in charge. And nature is going to burn that fucker down on its own schedule.

    Global warming might have something to do with this sort of thing but it is NOT what is causing the vast majority of forest fires in the US. They are caused by moronic forest management that is itself guided by crystal rubbing mystics that will say out of one side of their mouth that the environment is harmed by direct human management and then say out of the other side that nature's natural processes are all our fault.

    These people are idiots.

    And just to preempt the first fucktard that responds to this post saying I have his misguided asshattery wrong... I don't. I live here. I've seen this happen over years. I saw was we were doing before. I saw what you did, I watched the forest prime itself like a coiling spring, I saw the fires, I watched the clean up, and I've been listening to you same slack-jawed halfwits ever since point fingers at anyone besides yourselves.

    Do the Earth a favor and listen more and talk less.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      Global warming might have something to do with this sort of thing but it is NOT what is causing the vast majority of forest fires in the US.

      That's not what the article said. I know this is slashdot, but you could try reading the article. If you don't understand it the first time, odds are the problem is you, and you should try a few more times.

      They are caused by moronic forest management that is itself guided by crystal rubbing mystics

      Ahh, this is all a rant against woo. I was wondering what you were so angry about. Did you get turned down for sex by a hippie today?

      Do the Earth a favor and listen more and talk less.

      Take your own advice, and read the fine article instead of flapping your yap. What the article said, and it's true, is that global warming makes fires more likely and it exa

  • The reasoning behind this "expert's" opinion seems to be that higher temperatures lead to more drought and thereby to more wildfires. But that's far from certain:

    http://journals.ametsoc.org/do... [ametsoc.org]

  • Riiiight. So this has absolutely nothing at all to do with progressively worse nonmanagement of national forests over the past 30 years, opting instead to wait for a really big fire to clear burn areas?

    Nice dogmatic and unfounded supposition, warmers.

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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