Wildfires Rage Through Portugal and Spain, Kill at Least 39

GR:  Fire, storm, flood, and drought disasters are growing. Perhaps they will soon become so commonplace as to go unreported. Of course, when we see something coming at us like the fire in the photo below, we need the reports. Hurricane Ophelia is partly responsible for the spread of these fires.

“Hundreds of fires in both countries are being fanned by winds from Hurricane Ophelia in the north, currently barreling towards Ireland, and encouraged by extremely dry terrain from a scorching hot summer in the region.

“Sixty-four people died in a wildfire in Portugal in June, and the country has declared a state of emergency in the northern region. “We are facing new (weather) conditions” due to climate change, Portuguese Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa told the press, as she also referenced the fires blazing in California. “In an era of climate change, such disasters are becoming reality all over the world.”

Source: Wildfires Rage Through Portugal and Spain, Kill at Least 39

Firestorm: 1,500 Structures Destroyed as Massive Wildfires Blaze Through Northern California

GR: Now begins the age of extremes that everyone can see. No longer just statistical trends in numbers and sizes of floods and fires, global warming-spurred events are moving on stage and the lights are coming up.

Here are Robert Scribbler’s thoughts on the current California fires.

“Heat and drought and fire. A common litany these days for California — a state that has, year after year, been wracked by a series of unprecedented climate extremes.

“After a brief respite this winter, northern parts of a state reeling from woes related to human-caused climate change again settled into drought this summer. Having received near record amounts of rain during winter — enough to wreck the spillway at the Lake Oroville Dam — vegetation sprang anew. This rain-spurred growth then subsequently dried — developing widespread fuels for fires.” –Robert Scribbler (Firestorm: 1,500 Structures Destroyed as Massive Wildfires Blaze Through Northern California | robertscribbler).

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

Average Annual Wildfire Number and Size Increasing in the Great Plains

GR: Large fires occur during periods of high temperature and drought. The fire increase across the North American Great Plains is typical of many other regions undergoing fire regime changes as the Earth warms. Fueled by increasing temperature, drought, and invasive species, the fires will continue increasing. A study appearing in Geophysical Research Papers (GRP) documented dramatic changes since 1985. The study abstract follows the images.

Wildfire grasslands disaster, North American Great Plains, Lon Tonneson

Large wildfire trends in the western United States, 1984–2011
Authors: Philip E. Dennison, Simon C. Brewer, James D. Arnold, Max A. Moritz (Geophysical Research Letters, April 25, 2014)

Abstract

“Rapid changes in wildfire patterns are documented globally, increasing pressure to identify regions that may experience increases in wildfire in future decades. Temperate grassland and savanna biomes were some of the most frequently burned regions on Earth, however large wildfires have been largely absent from the Great Plains of North America over the last century. In this paper, we conduct an in-depth analysis of changes in large wildfire (>400 ha) regime characteristics over a 30 year period across the Great Plains. For the entire biome, (i) the average number of large wildfires increased from 33.4 + 5.6 per year from 1985-1994 to 116.8 + 28.8 wildfires per year from 2005-2014, (ii) total area burned by large wildfires increased 400%, (iii) over half the ecoregions had greater than a 70% probability of a large wildfire occurring in the last decade, and (iv) seasonality of large wildfires remained relatively similar.” –Victoria M. Donovan, Carissa L. Wonkka, Dirac Twidwell. (Accepted  for publication by GRP)