The number of wildfires and the amount of land they consume in the western U.S. has substantially increased since the 1980s, a trend often attributed to ongoing climate change.
The number of wildfires and the amount of land they consume in the western U.S. has substantially increased since the 1980s, a trend often attributed to ongoing climate change. Now, new research finds fires are not only becoming more common in the western U.S. but the area burned at high severity is also increasing, a trend that may lead to long-term forest loss.
The new findings show warmer temperatures and drier conditions are driving an eight-fold increase in annual area burned by high severity fire across western forests from 1985-2017. In total, annual area burned by high severity wildfires — defined as those that kill more than 95% of trees — increased by more than 450,000 acres.
“As more area burns at high severity, the likelihood of conversion to different forest types or even to non-forest increases,” said Sean Parks, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station and lead author of the new study. “At the same time, the post-fire climate is making it increasingly difficult for seedlings to establish and survive, further reducing the potential for forests to return to their pre-fire condition.”
Parks will present the results Wednesday, 9 December at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2020. The findings are also published in AGU’s journal Geophysical Research Letters, which publishes high-impact, short-format reports with immediate implications spanning all Earth and space sciences.
Read more at American Geophysical Union
Photo Credit: elliskj via Pixabay