Increasing global temperature can cause extreme wildfires and burn exceptionally large areas.
Catastrophic wildfires are expected to increase with the continuous rise in global temperatures, a new study reveals.
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Researchers from the University of Wyoming are suggesting that even modest climate warming of just 1 degree Fahrenheit can trigger wildfires and burn exceptionally large areas.
“What our research shows is that even modest regional warming trends, like we are currently experiencing, can cause exceptionally large areas in the Rockies to be burned by wildfires,” John Calder, a Ph.D. candidate in Ecology and the Department of Geology and Geophysics at UW said.
Calder and his follow researches are making these claims on the basis of 2,000 years of wildfire history of the United States. They examined charcoal deposits in 12 lakes around the Mount Zirkel Wilderness of northern Colorado and found that wildfires burned large portions of that area during a documented increase in temperature hikes in North America.
Many of the largest wildfires in US history burned recently and mostly in the western portion of the country and are linked with climate warming in the region over past few decades.
The recent spike in temperature is comparable with the period known as the Medieval Warm Period which started around 1,000 years ago. It was the only time when fires burned substantially more area than in the 20th century.
The temperatures in both the Rocky Mountain region and Medieval Warm Period were considerably high compared to the 20th century.
"Corresponding to those higher temperatures, 12 percent of our study area burned in the large Zirkel Complex fire in 2002,” said Calder. "Our data indicate that, in the Medieval Warm Period, fires were either much larger, or large fires similar to the Zirkel Complex fire burned in that same wilderness area once every decade or two when the temperatures warmed by 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit."
The studies on past climate changes and their impact on wildfires indicate potential wildfire risk in the future and suggest that the frequency of extreme wildfires will increase with continued warming.
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“The large increase in the number of sites burned by fires highlights the risk that large portions of individual landscapes may burn as climates continue to warm today.” Study concludes.