Wildfires: A future concern for the Northeast?

By Patrick Farrell

According to new studies, rising temperatures could mean an increased risk of forest fires in both the U.S. and Canada.

In San Francisco, at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, scientist Doug Morton of NASA Goddard presented a new analysis that shows increased level of forest fire activity in the next 40 years.

Morton and his fellow researchers found that with rising temperatures, the resulting dryness in forest areas across the country will leave U.S. forests more prone to ignite.

"Climate models project an increase in fire risk across the U.S. by 2050, based on a trend toward drier conditions that favor fire activity and an increase in the frequency of extreme events," Morton said.

Using data collected for the Fifth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Morton and his team calculated results for both low and high carbon emission scenarios.

In both cases, researchers data points to future fire seasons that are longer, stronger, and more frequent than past seasons experienced across the country.

This increase in forest fire activity may not be limited to the U.S., according to an article published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The article, titled "Control of the multimillennial wildfire size in boreal North America by spring climatic conditions", says that Canada's boreal forests may also be in jeopardy.

Studying sedimentary charcoal records from lakes around the North American boreal forests, scientists were able to look back 7,000 years to see that wildfires have been annually gaining in size.

Martin Girardin, a coauthor of the study, said "We thought we could find something similar in the past that could be an analog for the future."

Girardin works as a research scientist for the Canadian Forest Service.

He says that this research, coupled with the projected temperature increase of 3-4 degrees Celcius in boreal forests, could point to a future of more violent and more frequent forest fires in Canada's forests.

According to data from the National Interagency Fire Center, this past year the United States saw the most total acres burned and most acres burned per fire in the past 13 years.

A total of 7,724,955 acres were lost to wildfires.

Nevada recorded it's warmest August on record, while Colorado and Wyoming recorded their highest summer temperatures since 1895.

Natural Resources Canada reports that last year, about 7400 forest fires were reported, with an average of 1.9 million hectares burned annually.