Stark Evidence: A Warmer World Is Sparking More and Bigger Wildfires

GR: When it’s warmer, there is greater possibility of fires starting, spreading, and intensifying. As the climate system strives to reach a new equilibrium, droughts, heatwaves, and fires will become more frequent.

As burned areas grow, weeds will spread. As fire frequency increases, fire-tolerant ecosystems dominated by weeds will become persistent. This will occur when there is not enough time between fires for trees to replace the weeds. We’ve already seen this happening in the western U. S. as fire tolerant cheatgrass has replaced much of the sagebrush ecosystem. New hyperactive fire regimes are in the global forecast for nature’s shift to a new equilibrium in the warmer Earth of the Anthropocene. Fires added to farms, domestic livestock, and all the other human impacts will shift the land from forests to weedlands of reduced diversity, stability, and carrying capacity. More about weeds.

Wildfire near Mariposa, California. JOSH EDELSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The increase in forest fires, seen this summer from North America to the Mediterranean to Siberia, is directly linked to climate change, scientists say. And as the world continues to warm, there will be greater risk for fires on nearly every continent.

“On a single hot, dry day this summer, an astonishing 140 wildfires leapt to life across British Columbia. “Friday, July 7 was just crazy,” says Mike Flannigan, director of the wildland fire partnership at the University of Alberta. A state of emergency was declared. By the end of summer, more than 1,000 fires had been triggered across the Canadian province, burning a record nearly 3 million acres of forest—nearly 10 times the average in British Columbia over the last decade. As the fires got bigger and hotter, even aerial attacks became useless. “It’s like spitting on a campfire,” says Flannigan. “It doesn’t do much other than making a pretty picture for the newspapers.”

“Forest fires are natural. But the number and extent of the fires being seen today are not. These fires are man-made, or at least man-worsened.

“Evidence is becoming more and more overwhelming,” says Flannigan, that climate change is spreading fires around the world. Globally, the length of the fire weather season increased by nearly 19 percent between 1978 and 2013, thanks to longer seasons of warm, dry weather in one-quarter of the planet’s forests. In the western United States, for example, the wildfire season has grown from five months in the 1970s to seven months today.

“The number-crunching now shows an increased risk for fire on nearly every continent, says Flannigan, though most of the work has focused on North America, where there is a larger pot of funding for such research. In the western U.S., where fires ravaged Oregon this summer, the annual burned area has, on average, gone from less than 250,000 acres in 1985 to more than 1.2 million acres in 2015; human-caused climate change has been blamed for doubling the total area burned over that time.

“Similarly, for fire-ravaged British Columbia, an analysis from this July estimates that climate change has made extreme fire events in western Canada 1.5-6 times more likely.

“So how much worse are things set to get? Scientists are getting far better at untangling the relationship between extreme weather and climate change.

“Pinning any specific environmental event on climate change is a tricky business, though the science of weather attribution has grown in leaps and bounds over the past decades. Individual wildfires are still near the bottom of the list of things that can easily be pegged to a changing climate, thanks to all the other factors in the mix. If people break up forests into smaller chunks through logging or agriculture, that can limit the spread of forest fires; on the other hand, some trees burn faster than others (younger trees are greener, so burn slower), and shrubs under a tree canopy can make fire more intense. A particularly rainy year can paradoxically increase fire risk if the rain comes in springtime, by boosting the volume of vegetation available to burn later in the season. Natural weather patterns like El Niño can have a dramatic effect on precipitation, and so on fire.”

“If we have higher temps, we have a greater probability of fire starting, fire spreading, and fire intensifying.”

Nicola Jones: Stark Evidence: A Warmer World Is Sparking More and Bigger Wildfires – Yale E360

How a Warming Planet Drives Human Migration

GR:  Thoughts on Climate Change

The climate news today (and really every day now) is not good. The Times article below focuses on just one of the bad bits. Global warming and consequent shifts in weather patterns are stressing everyone, but especially those people living in equatorial regions. Droughts, fires, and floods are becoming intolerable. The emerging climate-change-driven diaspora will carry the stress north and south into temperate latitudes. Projections made by many scientists in the U. S., European Union, and Asia portray a dismal future for Earth and humanity.

A Glimpse of Future Earth

Climate-change emigrants and their descendents moving north will not escape the ravages of a warming planet for very long. Stresses in northern latitudes have already begun. As the human population squeezes north to find food and water, resources will dwindle and conflicts will intensify. Nature in even the diminished form that we see now will sink toward unsustainable levels where wild plants and animals, then watersheds, then soils, and then fresh water are lost.

As I look out across my fields of invasive weeds and my ponds and small stream choked with artificially fertilized algae and filled with invasive animals, I remember the sunflowered fields and sparkling creek of my childhood. As the pace of climate change accelerates, “the good old days” will become a meaningful phrase for younger and younger people facing a constant need to adapt to more difficult times.

Want to keep up with the changes? The Daily Climate carries the best selection of current stories I’ve found. The Daily Climate included a link to the story below along with dozens of others. (Header image:  A farmer tries to revive his unconscious cow. Photo by CNN.)

Illustration by La Tigre.

“Climate change is not equal across the globe, and neither are its longer term consequences. This map overlays human turmoil — represented here by United Nations data on nearly 64 million “persons of concern,” whose numbers have tripled since 2005 — with climate turmoil, represented by data from NASA’s Common Sense Climate Index. The correlation is striking. Climate change is a threat multiplier: It contributes to economic and political instability and also worsens the effects. It propels sudden-onset disasters like floods and storms and slow-onset disasters like drought and desertification; those disasters contribute to failed crops, famine and overcrowded urban centers; those crises inflame political unrest and worsen the impacts of war, which leads to even more displacement. There is no internationally recognized legal definition for “environmental migrants” or “climate refugees,” so there is no formal reckoning of how many have left their homes because climate change has made their lives or livelihoods untenable. In a 2010 Gallup World Poll, though, about 12 percent of respondents — representing a total of 500 million adults — said severe environmental problems would require them to move within the next five years.

  1. ‘Amazon Basin: As glacial melting reduces freshwater reserves for the Andean plain, tensions are growing between locals and the mining and agribusiness operations that consume much of what remains. Researchers predict that this resource conflict will drive more migrants to the Amazon Basin where many have already turned to informal mining and coca cultivation, fueling the rise of criminal syndicates.

  2. “Lake Chad, 3. Syria, 4. China, 5. Philippines” –Jessica Benko (New York Times: Continue reading.)

2017’s Warming Climate Produces Unprecedented Floods Across the Globe

GR: More CO2, more warming, more evaporation, and more extreme storms.

“A robust result, consistent across climate model projections, is that higher precipitation extremes in warmer climates are very likely to occur.” — IPCC

“As the climate has warmed… heat waves are longer and hotter. Heavy rains and flooding are more frequent. In a wide swing between extremes, drought, too, is more intense and more widespread.” — Climate Communications

“It’s a tough fact to get one’s head around. But a warming climate means that many regions will both experience more extreme droughts and more extreme floods. The cause for this new weather severity is that a warming planet produces higher rates of evaporation together with more intense atmospheric convection. Warmer air over land means that the moisture gets baked out of terrain, lakes and rivers faster. And this warming effect causes droughts to settle in more rapidly, to become more intense than we are used to, and to often last for longer periods.

As the climate warms, instances of extreme weather — both droughts and floods — increase. Image source: NOAA/UCAR.

“On the flip side of this severe weather coin, more moisture evaporating from the world’s lands and oceans means that the atmosphere contains a greater volume of moisture overall. This heavier moisture load enters a hotter, thicker, taller lower atmosphere (troposphere). One that is becoming increasingly stingy about giving up that moisture in the form of precipitation much of the time. All that heat and added convective energy just serves as a big moisture trap. So the load of moisture has to be heavier, overall, to fall out. When the atmospheric moisture hoarding finally relents, it does so with a vengeance. Thicker clouds with higher tops drench lands and seas with heavier volumes of rain and snow. And when the rain does fall from these larger storms, it tends to come, more and more often, in torrents.

“California Record Drought to Record Flood in Just 4 Years

“A set of facts that were drawn into stark relief recently in California which over the past few years experienced one of its driest periods on record but, in 2017, is on tap to see its wettest year ever recorded for broad regions. In a section of hard-hit Northern California, the cumulative 2017 rainfall average had, as of yesterday (April 9), hit 87.5 inches. The record for the region in all of the past 122 years is 88.5 inches for the entire year.

Cumulative precipitation in Northern California set to beat all time record during 2017. Data Source: California Department of Water Resources. Image source: The Sacramento Bee.

“It is just early April. But the region tends to receive most of its moisture from January through March. However, all it would take is a relatively minor storm system to tip the scales into record territory. And it now appears likely that this region will see in excess of 90 inches for the present year.

“Infrastructure damage from this year’s flood for the state is likely to considerably exceed $1 billion. Damage to roads alone is nearly $700 million. And that does not include stresses to dams — like the one at Lake Oroville where an eroded spillway threatened structural integrity and forced 200,000 people to evacuate. Overall, the cost of the repairs combined with the cost of hardening California’s infrastructure to these new extreme weather events could top $50 billion.” –RobertScribbler (Continue reading: 2017’s Warming Climate Produces Unprecedented Floods Across the Globe | robertscribbler.)

Climate change pushing floods, cyclones to new extremes, with worse to come

GR: We know that global warming increases the chances for severe storms. This article provides explanations and some details on what to expect.

“With Australia experiencing the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie and record-breaking rains and severe flooding in south-east Queensland and along the north coast of New South Wales, here’s a look at how global warming has, and will, push floods and cyclones to new extremes.

Flooding extremes

“Warm air can be more humid than cold air, that is, it can hold more water vapour in absolute terms. And atmospheric water vapour content increases seven per cent for each 1-degree-Celsius increase in global average temperature, establishing the conditions for more intense rainfall events.

“Flash floods are likely to sweep across the Australian landscape with increasing intensity, particularly in urban or residential areas. Peak rainfall is predicted to soar with rising surface temperatures as Australia experiences ever greater extremes of heat.

“The frequency of major flood events (defined as events which caused extensive flooding within 50 kilometres of the coast, or inundation that extended 20 kilometres along the coast) along Australia’s eastern seaboard has doubled in last 150 years, with climate change one of the possible factors, senior Bureau of Meteorology researchers say.

“Record-breaking heavy rainfall and a clear upward trend in downpours over the last 30 years fits in with global temperature rise caused by greenhouse gases. Statistical analysis of rainfall data from 1901 to 2010 around the globe, shows that from 1980 to 2010 there were 12% more of these intense events than would be expected in a climate without global warming. Wet regions generally saw a bigger increase in deluges and drier regions a smaller one. In southeast Asia, the observed increase in record-breaking rainfall events is as high as 56%.

“Attribution studies show how the risk of a particular event may have changed due to the human influence on climate. Some attribution results surveyed by the World Meteorological Organisation include:

  • The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined that human-caused climate change increased chances of the fatal and record rains in Louisiana by at least 40% percent and could have nearly doubled the odds of such a storm.
  • A scientific analysis of devastating 2014 floods in the United Kingdom, which cost an estimated $646 million in insurance losses, found that human-caused climate change has increased the chance of the extreme rain event by 43%.
  • In May-June 2016, portions of northeast France received six full weeks of rain in 24-hours. A formal attribution study released June 9, 2016, found that such extreme rains are at least 40 percent—and as much as 90 percent—more likely in some areas of France.

Cyclone extremes

“Cyclones, in part, draw their energy from the temperature of the ocean’s surface waters, so a warming climate and ocean puts more energy into storms, including cyclones, loading them with more rainfall, and stronger winds pushing more of a storm surge.” –Climate Code Red (Continue: Climate Code Red: Climate change pushing floods, cyclones to new extremes, with worse to come.)