Over the past few decades, many scientists have speculated that climate change would double or even triple western wildfires. This tremendous impact has finally been explained by a team of researchers from the University of Idaho.
The paper was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and consists of a comprehensive study on western wildfires which occurred in various states such as Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.
Since the 1970s, these forests have become drier, therefore more likely to burn and during the last thirty years, the statistics have shown that western wildfires have doubled with a staggering increase starting from 1984.
The team of researchers further explain that the local vegetation dried out due to the lack of precipitation and temperature changes. According to Park Williams, Columbia University climate expert, and one of study authors, climate change dryness and forest fire area are strongly related.
He and his team also accounted for the climate change effects caused by man activity combined with natural climate fluctuations. After using eight distinct measurement methods, they came to the conclusion that the most substantial increase in dryness occurred from 1979 to 2015.
More precisely, dryness was responsible for over 75 percent of the western wildfires over the last three decades. Then, they investigated how severe was the human impact on climate change during this period and found out that human activity led to a 60 percent increase in dryness within the same amount of time.
This means that the industrial activity in these areas is responsible for more than half of the western wildfires. The experts also calculated that over 16,000 square miles of forest area was burnt to the ground since 1984.
In addition, western spring precipitation significantly dropped off affecting ocean temperatures as well. However, there are other factors that influence the occurrence of western wildfires such as vegetation density and lightning strikes.
Unfortunately, these forest fires are expected to increase in the future, especially if dry vegetation expands, as it represents the ideal fuel for such events.
Experts will double their efforts to develop new strategies to tackle this problem while they also encourage local communities to take action by reducing air pollution and other factors that increase the risk of human-caused western wildfires.
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