In western USA, wildfires and seasonal changes were Mother Nature’s way of renewing forests of Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Firs.
Today, mostly man-made climate changes make these areas parched, making it easy for the tinder-dry trees to ignite and spread very quickly. This has allowed wildfires to become more frequent and harder to control.
Acres of land being cleared worldwide for more industries, offices and homes, without taking into consideration the environmental impact and studying if the cleared area could be made as green as possible, are also contributing factors climatic change which is making our weather so unpredictable nowadays.
Environmentalists and scientists fear extremely high temperatures from such huge fires may wipe out thousands of acres of forest causing hundreds of wildlife species may become extinct.
A concerned research scientist with the US Geological Survey department, John Keeley, said, “When you get these large areas burned there are no surviving trees to reseed these areas. It is causing a shift from forest to other vegetation types, mostly shrublands and grasslands.”
This year, the world has seen record forest fires in Argentina, Australia, the North America (USA), South America (consisting of Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana) , and also the Siberian Artic. Extreme heat and dry conditions worsened by climate changes, have made these fires extremely hard to control and contain.
University of Colorado Boulder fire ecologist, Jennifer Balch, said, “What we’re seeing with fires in California and elsewhere around the world is that fire is really responsive to climate change”.
Temperate and boreal forests which also need occasional forest fires for renewal, are now being threatened as well. Temperate forests lie between the tropical and boreal regions, i.e., in the temperate zone. Boreal forests lie far to the northern hemisphere where the climate is much harsher. Scientists are worried how the negative effects of the changing climate will hamper their continued growth.
As of Sunday, Sept 20th, a record 2 million hectares have been destroyed as fires continue to rage in the US. The scale of destruction fits perfectly into the description of the horrors of climatic change, because more and more areas become parched with rising temperatures.
In the past, pine tree forest fires have always burned low to the ground as a natural way to eliminate dead branches and prompt pine tree cones to burst open and disperse their seeds for repopulation. Nowadays, fire fighters witness a different scenario where massively high fires from ground up burn up the pine trees.
Head of the Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology group in Oregon, Timothy Ingalsbee, says, “Fires are not unnatural, but the kind of behaviour and the times, places and conditions they are igniting in are very, very unusual.”
When a forest catches fire too frequently, new tree saplings will be destroyed before reaching maturity, leaving the place barren of regrowth. Extremely hot weather will also kill off new saplings, and climate change could contribute to both scenarios.
University of Montana ecologist Kimberley Davis says, “In some hotter and drier areas, the climate has shifted to the point where it’s no longer suitable for tree regeneration. In those areas, once there is a fire, trees won’t grow back.”
Moving on Down Under, Australian scientists found the forest systems in the south-eastern Australian Alps have collapsed due to unusually frequent forest fires since 2003.
University of Tasmania fire scientist David Bowman said, “As we’re doing the research project, another fire happened: Then the system crashed. It went from a forested state to a non-forested state. No forest, no trees – kaput.”
There is even more imminent danger from an apparent increase in forest fires in the colder Siberian Artic region. Severe forest fires can raise temperatures which can then thaw regional permafrost (permafrost is frozen land -32F/0°C or lower for at least 2 years or longer) and release methane from the frozen land. Methane is a greenhouse gas, meaning it absorbs heat from the sun and warms the atmosphere leading to higher-than-normal temperatures.
So the next time you read of a forest fire burning out of control, think of the extent of damage it can cause to the environment, wildlife, climate and ultimately to you and your family!
22nd September 2020 20:00