Climate Change Can Contribute to Abrupt Forest Loss Caused by Wildfires

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Climate Change Can Contribute to Abrupt Forest Loss Caused by Wildfires

90% of all wildfires that happened over the past decades were caused by human activities/ Photo By nirut123rf via 123RF


Wildfires are one of the most destructive disasters that can cause massive damage not only to the forests but also to the ecosystem in general. An article by National Geographic reported that in the United States alone, an average of more than 100,000 wildfires clear four million to five million acres of land every year. Aside from that, wildfires have burned up to nine million acres of land in the U.S. in recent years. 

Wildfires are mostly unpredictable and of course, unwanted. They can burn at a temperature of more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is twice as hot as the surface of Venus. They can also spread fast on land which can move twice as fast as an average human can run. With that, it is obvious how it affects our ecosystem and biodiversity. At the same time, it can also cause thousands of injured species and even death. 

One of the places that is most affected by wildfires is California. In fact, it has been reported that since 2000, the state has had fifteen of the 20 largest fires in history. One of the factors includes California's temperature which increased by three degrees Fahrenheit over the past century. That warmth sucks the water out of soils and plants. This leaves shrubs, trees, and grasslands dry and prone to burning easily.

With the ever-worsening climate change and global warming, it has been concluded that forests that have been affected by wildfires will have a hard time recovering. Thus, it is important for humans to recognize such impacts since wildfires will affect not just the human race but also the ecosystem in the long run. 

How Wildfires Are Formed

There are three conditions that should be present in order for a wildfire to occur. Firefighters often refer to it as the fire triangle which consists of oxygen, fuel, and heat source. With these elements, wildfires spread much more easily throughout the forest, affecting a lot of species.

There are several causes that can ignite a wildfire. An article by Earth Eclipse reported that 90% of all wildfires that happened over the past decades were caused by human activities. This includes human acts of carelessness such as negligent discarding of cigarette butts and leaving campfires unattended. These small acts can cause a potential wildfire in the forest. In fact, worldwide research showed that smoking is the leading cause of fires and deaths around the world. 

Unattended campfires, on the other hand, is also a huge cause of wildfires. In fact, the United States has reported that about half of the 73,110 wildfires between 2006 and 2015 were caused by those kinds of activities. The wildfires reported during that period have damaged more than 1.2 million acres of land. 

The remaining 10% of the 90% causes of wildfires are caused by natural phenomenon. This could depend on a region's weather, vegetation, climate, and typography. According to the article, lightning and volcanic eruptions are the only main natural causes of wildfires. In fact, researchers found out that lightning is a common trigger for these disasters. During a volcanic eruption, hot magma in the earth’s crusts is usually expelled. The hot lava then flows into nearby lands or forests which can start wildfires.

Impact of Wildfires

The most evident impact of wildfires is the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity. It can destroy and damage the habitats of both flora and fauna, thus, altering or killing plant life. This can have great damage to the thousands of wildlife that are dependent on them. At the same time, smaller and rare animals such as squirrels, birds, insects, rabbits, and others are mainly at high risk of death. 

Wildfires are also a major cause of forest degradation because thousands of acres of trees and vegetation are mostly wiped out. Thus, it reduces the quality of certain forest features such as biodiversity, soil fertility, and ecosystems. Wildfires also damage the quality of the air we breathe in. The greenhouse gasses are increased in the atmosphere which leads to global warming and climate change. 

Additionally, wildfires can also damage and affect human beings. The smoke produced worsen the health of people with respiratory diseases and allergies. At the same time, the damage wildfires bring to the ecosystem will affect the food consumption of humans and eventually the entire economy. 

United States has reported that about half of the 73,110 wildfires between 2006 and 2015 were caused by those kinds of activities/ Photo By viesinsh via 123RF


Climate Change Affects Forest Recovery

With the worsening damage of climate change on our planet, the recovery of forests after wildfires is also affected. This has been proven by a recent study entitled "Wildfires and Climate Change Push Low-elevation Forests Across a Critical Climate Threshold for Tree Regeneration" conducted by researchers from the University of Montana. 

According to an article by Science Daily, the study evaluated the relationship between annual climate and post-fire regeneration of the forests in western North America. Lead author Kimberley Davis, a postdoctoral research associate, said, "Forests in the western U.S. are increasingly affected by both climate change and wildfires. The ability of forests to recover following wildfire depends on annual climate conditions because tree seedlings are particularly vulnerable to hot and dry weather." 

The researchers wanted to determine the specific conditions needed for post-fire tree regeneration. This is to understand how forests have been affected by climate change through time. They have used 2,800 trees that regenerated after fires in several states such as California, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and New Mexico. The authors used tree rings to identify establishment dates between 1988 and 2015. 

The study found out that there has been a decline in tree regeneration given the condition of the forests. Davis also added that high-severity fire in the areas can lead to ecosystem transitions from forests to grasslands or shrublands.



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