Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

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Tag Archive: fire

  1. ‘Like a blowtorch’: Powerful winds fueled tornadoes of flame in Tubbs No. SF Bay Fire

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    Peter Fimrite Oct. 19 2017 Read full SF Chronicle article here

    The Tubbs Fire that raged through Santa Rosa last week unleashed a series of fiery tornadoes powerful enough to flip cars, yank trees out of the ground and rip homes apart, fire scientists said Wednesday.

    Gusts of up to 73 mph were recorded at the weather stations after the fires broke out Oct. 8, but the extraordinary damage documented during postmortem evaluations indicated that much more powerful forces were at play….“It was no different than a hurricane, really, but instead of rain we had a fire event. I’ve been in this business 30 years and it’s the worst I’ve seen.”…

  2. Northern California firestorm ‘literally exploded’; 2015 study found warming climate to make “Diablo” offshore winds more frequent and stronger, fueling more destructive fires

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    • years of drought followed by record-breaking rainfall increased fuel load [after a century of fire-suppression combined with inappropriate siting of houses and other built infrastructure]
    • 2015 study found that a warming climate will likely make these “Diablo” offshore winds both more frequent and stronger, fueling potentially destructive fires

    Updated Oct 11 2017  Read full ClimateProgress article here

    …The fires ignited late Sunday night and into Monday morning and have since spread over 50,000 acres across Napa and Sonoma counties, destroying at least 3,500 structures and sending at least 100 to the hospital with injuries ranging from burns to smoke inhalation…

    …Fast-moving winds and low humidity aren’t rare in California, and neither are October wildfires, but it’s likely climate change made these fires even more destructive. After years of historic, prolonged drought, which studies have linked to climate change, California experienced record-setting rains that fueled the growth of grasses and underbrush — young vegetation that dries easily during the summer and is especially susceptible to ignition. Because warmer atmospheric temperatures can hold more water, experts have suggested that the cycle of drought followed by intense precipitation could be linked to climate change.

    Even the state’s characteristic winds — known in the northern part of the state as Diablo Winds and in the southern part of the state as Santa Ana winds — could be getting worse because of climate change. The Santa Ana and Diablo winds occur when high inland pressure pushes air down the sides of mountains (Mt. Diablo in northern California and Mt. Ana in southern California), whipping wind through the canyons and hillsides outside major population centers like Los Angeles and San Francisco. According to a 2015 study lead by researchers at University of California, Los Angles, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and the U.S. Forest Service, a warming climate will likely make these winds both more frequent and stronger, fueling potentially destructive fires….

    ….The National Wildfire Coordinating Group currently lists 179 active wildfire situations throughout much of the Western United States, from Colorado to Washington. The largest active fire in the United States is the Chetco Bar Fire in southern Oregon, which has burned over 191,121 acres and is 97 percent contained. As of October 6, wildfires have burned 8,469,590 acres across the United States — the third largest total acreage burned in the last 10 fire seasons….

  3. Industrial farming disrupts burn-regrowth cycle in grasslands

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    June 29, 2017 University of California – Irvine  see full ScienceDaily article here

    The world’s open grasslands and the beneficial fires that sustain them have shrunk rapidly over the past two decades, thanks to a massive increase in agriculture, according to a new study led by University of California, Irvine and NASA researchers published today in Science.

    Analyzing 1998 to 2015 data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites, the international team found that the total area of Earth’s surface torched by flames had fallen by nearly 25 percent, or 452,000 square miles (1.2 million square kilometers). Decreases were greatest in Central America and South America, across the Eurasian steppe and in northern Africa, home to fast-disappearing lions, rhinoceroses and other iconic species that live on these fire-forged savannas.

    A billion and a half more people have been added to the planet over the past 20 years, livestock has doubled in many places, and wide-open areas once kept open by fire are now being farmed,” said James Randerson, Chancellor’s Professor of Earth system science at UCI. “Our fire data are a sensitive indicator of the intense pressure humans are placing on these important ecosystems.”…

    Sharp increases in the number of livestock, the expansion of croplands, and new buildings and roads have fragmented the savannas and reduced highly flammable dried grasses. The expanses have become prized assets for private landowners who want to prevent brush fires. Unlike international efforts to combat tropical deforestation, there’s been less focus on protecting these vast semiarid stretches.

    “Humans are interrupting the ancient, natural cycle of burning and recovery in these areas,” Randerson said. Losing a fourth of the planet’s fires has benefits, increasing storage of dangerous carbon emissions and reducing lung-damaging smoke. But the drop-off in smoke in the atmosphere also allows more sunlight to reach the Earth’s surface, causing more global warming.

    The change is not uniform. Consistent with previous reports, more wildfires have occurred in the western U.S. and across North American boreal forests, where climate change is lengthening the fire season and drying out flammable vegetation faster.

    N. Andela, D. C. Morton, L. Giglio, Y. Chen, G. R. Van Der Werf, P. S. Kasibhatla, R. S. Defries, G. J. Collatz, S. Hantson, S. Kloster, D. Bachelet, M. Forrest, G. Lasslop, F. Li, S. Mangeon, J. R. Melton, C. Yue, J. T. Randerson. A human-driven decline in global burned area. Science, 2017 DOI: 10.1126/science.aal4108

  4. Spotted owls benefit from forest fire mosaic

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    • Maintaining a complex mosaic of forest patches with smaller patches of high severity fire can help sustain California Spotted Owls in the greater landscape,

    Posted: 31 May 2017 05:44 AM PDT  full ScienceDaily article here

    Fire is a crucial part of the forest ecosystem on which threatened spotted owls rely, but climate change and decades of fire suppression are changing the dynamics of these forests. A new study examines California spotted owl habitat use and shows that while owls  avoid the badly burned areas left behind by massive stand-replacing fires, they benefit from habitat that includes a mosaic of burned patches of different sizes and degrees of severity.

    …”Maintaining a complex mosaic of forest patches with smaller patches of high severity fire can help sustain California Spotted Owls in the greater landscape,” says Eyes. “What’s unique about our study is that we investigated fires that burned within the natural range of variation, so it paints a picture of how owls used a burned landscape before the onset of today’s large stand-replacing fires.” Despite the owls’ preference for edges, there may be a threshold over which edges have a negative effect on habitat quality, and more research is needed to find the right balance between beneficial edge habitat and potentially harmful habitat fragmentation.

    Stephanie A. Eyes, Susan L. RobertsMatthew D. JohnsonCalifornia Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis) habitat use patterns in a burned landscape. The Condor: Ornithological Applications, May 2017 DOI: 10.1650/CONDOR-16-184.1
  5. Changing climate could have devastating impacts on forest carbon storage

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    • mean loss of carbon from drought and fire impacted forests could equal losing 70% of CA’s 2010 total above ground biomass
    • strategies for reducing some fire risk include actively thinning forests to manage tree density and restoring surface fires
    • healthy ecosystems lead to cleaner, better regulated water flow to communities across the western United States
    May 25, 2017  University of New Mexico  full ScienceDaily article here
    Biologists have shown what could be a startling drop in the amount of carbon stored in the Sierra Nevada mountains due to projected climate change and wildfire events.

    ….roughly half of all human-emitted carbon is absorbed by vegetation and the ocean, and is stored through natural processes — something that helps limit our actual carbon impact on the atmosphere. The problem is, as forests begin to change, due to global warming and large scale fires, the amount of forest carbon uptake will decrease, accelerating the amount of human-made carbon making its way into the atmosphere.

    Our simulations in the Sierra Nevada show that the mean amount of carbon loss from the forests under these projections could be as large as 663 teragrams,” said Hurteau. “That’s equal to about 73 percent of the total above ground carbon stock estimated in California vegetation in 2010.”

    …The two factors that influence these findings are changes in climate and the likelihood of large scale forest fires. Because California is experiencing warmer and drier conditions due to global warming, certain tree species are not able to flourish across particular geographic regions like they once were. Less tree growth, means less carbon uptake in forests.

    The study also shows that wildfires will play a big role in the reduction of stored carbon. And while many of these incidents will occur naturally, Hurteau says we are, in part, to blame for their significance….

    …”We’ve been putting out fires for a hundred years, causing tree density to go way up. In the absence of fire that system has a lot more carbon stored in it,” explained Hurteau. “But, when you have these large fire events the amount of carbon stored in the system drops because it kills many of the trees. Whereas, in a forest that’s been maintained by regular forest fires, which is the natural ecological state, your total carbon at any given point in time can be lower but it stays more consistent.”

    …Hurteau says researchers have identified strategies for reducing some of the fire risk by actively thinning forests to manage tree density and restoring surface fires. It’s an idea that seems counterproductive until you consider how volatile these ecosystems are due to the risk of large scale fires that end up destroying hundreds of thousands of acres.

    …He says it’s not only for the benefit of nature but for all of us, since healthy ecosystems lead to cleaner, better regulated water flow to communities across the western United States.

    Shuang Liang, Matthew D. Hurteau, Anthony LeRoy Westerling. Potential decline in carbon carrying capacity under projected climate-wildfire interactions in the Sierra Nevada. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-02686-0

  6. Smoke from wildfires- “brown carbon”- can have lasting climate impact

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    • High-altitude brown carbon from biomass burning is an unappreciated component of climate forcing.

    May 23, 2017 Georgia Institute of Technology  full article here at ScienceDaily

    …Researchers have found that carbon particles released into the air from burning trees and other organic matter are much more likely than previously thought to travel to the upper levels of the atmosphere, where they can interfere with rays from the sun — sometimes cooling the air and at other times warming it.

    Most of the brown carbon released into the air stays in the lower atmosphere, but a fraction of it does get up into the upper atmosphere, where it has a disproportionately large effect on the planetary radiation balance — much stronger than if it was all at the surface,” said Rodney Weber, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences.

    …The climate is more sensitive to those particulates as their altitude increases. The researchers found that brown carbon appears much more likely than black carbon to travel through the air to the higher levels of the atmosphere where it can have a greater impact on climate….

    Yuzhong Zhang, Haviland Forrister, Jiumeng Liu, Jack Dibb, Bruce Anderson, Joshua P. Schwarz, Anne E. Perring, Jose L. Jimenez, Pedro Campuzano-Jost, Yuhang Wang, Athanasios Nenes, Rodney J. Weber. Top-of-atmosphere radiative forcing affected by brown carbon in the upper troposphere. Nature Geoscience, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/NGEO2960

  7. High severity fire likely to increasingly limit conifer forest recovery in Klamath region

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    Study finds that wildfire in a warming climate could relegate portions of forested landscapes to shrubland

    April 27 2017

    The ability of some Western conifer forests to recover after severe fire may become increasingly limited as the climate continues to warm, scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and Harvard Forest found in a new study published in Global Change Biology. Although most of these cone-bearing evergreen trees are well adapted to fire, the study examines whether two likely facets of climate change — hotter, drier conditions and larger, more frequent and severe wildfires — could potentially transform landscapes from forested to shrub-dominated systems.

    “The Klamath ecosystem is an important transition zone separating the shrubs of the California chaparral from the Pacific Northwest’s temperate rainforest,” says Jonathan Thompson, a Senior Ecologist at Harvard Forest and co-author on the study. “Our work suggests climate change will push the chaparral north at the expense of the Klamath’s existing conifer forests...

    …”Our study helps to identify the places that are at greatest risk of forest loss, where managers could either target management to promote post-fire forest recovery, or accept that we’re going to see some degree of landscape transformation in the coming decades and learn to meet ecological objectives under the new climate and disturbance regimes,” says Alan Tepley, a forest ecologist with SCBI and the study’s lead author.

    Alan J. Tepley, Jonathan R. Thompson, Howard E. Epstein, Kristina J. Anderson-Teixeira. Vulnerability to forest loss through altered postfire recovery dynamics in a warming climate in the Klamath Mountains. Global Change Biology, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13704

  8. Food Security, Forests At Risk Under Administration’s USDA

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    By Bobby Magill February 7th, 2017 see full article here

    U.S. food security, forest health, and the ability of farmers to respond to climate change are all at risk if [the President’s] pick to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture brings climate change skepticism to the agency, agricultural researchers and environmental law experts say.  …[President’s] nominee for Agriculture secretary — former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who in 2007 resorted to prayer as a strategy to deal with a severe drought Georgia was enduring….

    ….Established climate science shows that greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels are quickly warming the planet, leading to melting polar ice caps, rising seas and more frequent extreme weather. Sixteen of the world’s 17 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2000 — a level of global warming leading to more frequent, more intense and more deadly heat waves and extreme drought….

    …If the USDA dismisses the threat of climate change, “then there is reason for grave concern,” said Michael P. Hoffman, executive director of the Cornell University Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, which focuses on sustainable agriculture. “Those who grow our food in the U.S. are facing more extreme weather, more flooding and drought, more high temperature stress — in general more risk due to more variability, more uncertainty,” Hoffmann said. “It will be a travesty if USDA cuts back on its support of climate change research and education.”…

    …The USDA manages 193 million acres of national forest and grasslands, including the rainforests of Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Those forests act as large “carbon sinks” because they store more carbon from the atmosphere in tree trunks, roots and soil than any other type of forest in the country. Altogether, America’s national forests offset and store about 14 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions each year, according to the U.S. Forest Service….

    …Firefighting made up 16 percent of the U.S. Forest Service’s budget in 1995, but as climate change led to longer and more severe fire seasons, the share of the agency’s budget dedicated to fighting fires ballooned to 50 percent by 2015 — roughly $1.2 billion. Fire seasons now average 78 days longer each year than in 1970, according to the Forest Service….

     

  9. Tree-bark thickness indicates fire-resistance in a hotter future

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    Posted: 11 Jan 2017 06:14 AM PST  full article here

    A new study has found that trees worldwide develop thicker bark when they live in fire-prone areas. The findings suggest that bark thickness could help predict which forests and savannas will survive a warmer climate in which wildfires are expected to increase in frequency….

    …the study illustrates how climate change could create conditions that already-endangered ecosystems cannot withstand. “As periods of drought begin to be seen more frequently in tropical forests — the lungs of our planet — the risk that these ecosystems will burn increases,” said Coulson, who is familiar with the study but had no role in it.

    Because the species found there are not well-adapted to cope with fire, the consequences could be devastating,” he said. “[This] work highlights that the changes we are making to our climate can put ecosystems at risk to factors, such as fire, that they are poorly equipped to deal with.

    Adam F. A. Pellegrini, William R. L. Anderegg, C. E. Timothy Paine, William A. Hoffmann, Tyler Kartzinel, Sam S. Rabin, Douglas Sheil, Augusto C. Franco, Stephen W. Pacala. Convergence of bark investment according to fire and climate structures ecosystem vulnerability to future change. Ecology Letters, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12725