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article imageClimate-fueled wildfires are decimating the planet's forests

By Karen Graham     Sep 22, 2020 in Environment
Landscape-changing wildfires have become a concern worldwide as global warming creates fires that burn more ferociously and more frequently. Scientists are now asking just how much more devastation our forests and woodlands can take, and still survive?
In the American West and other regions of the world, wildfires have long been a part of the natural cycle of renewal, much like the changing of the seasons.
However, climate change has made these regions more arid, allowing wildfires to become more ferocious, intense, and more frequent. Scientists now worry that the hottest blazes could end up obliterating large swaths of forests forever, reports NBC News.
“When you get these large areas burned there are no surviving trees to reseed these areas,” said Jon Keeley, a research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “It is causing a shift from forest to other vegetation types, mostly shrublands and grasslands.”
Many evacuees told Spanish media they fled with just the clothes on their backs.
Many evacuees told Spanish media they fled with just the clothes on their backs.
Climate change has made these landscape-changing wildfires the new norm globally. This year, alone, record-breaking wildfires have raged in Australia, Argentina, the Siberian Arctic, and more recently, the U.S. west and South America's Pantanal, a vast wetlands that sits at the southern edge of the Amazon rainforest, stretching from Brazil into Bolivia and Paraguay.
Scientists say the fires in these regions have been made worse by heat and drought conditions brought on by climate change. “What we’re seeing with fires in California and elsewhere around the world is that fire is really responsive to climate change,” said Jennifer Balch, a fire ecologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, according to Reuters.
How frequent and how hot fires burn is a big concern
In the U.S. - wildfires have devoured close to six million acres. In South America, 23,500 square kilometers (9,000 square miles) of the wetlands have gone up in smoke - nearly 12 percent of the Pantanal.
Santiam Fire on September 9  2020.
Santiam Fire on September 9, 2020.
Oregon State Fire Marshall (OSFM)
In Russia, the Siberian wildfires have burned an estimated 20.9 million hectares (51.6 million acres) of land and 10.9 million hectares (26.9 million acres) of forest, since the start of 2020.
Historically, as part of the natural cycle of the forests - the fires tended to burn low to the ground, eliminating dead limbs, and keeping competing species in check and prompting pine cones to open and disperse their seeds. However, today fire managers are seeing a different kind of burn.
It is becoming increasingly common to see massive “tree-torching” fires that engulf forests from the ground up through the canopy. “Fires are not unnatural, but the kind of behavior and the times, places and conditions they are igniting in are very, very unusual,” said Timothy Ingalsbee, who heads the Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology, an Oregon-based advocacy group that promotes forest management to mitigate fire risks.
British Columbia Government News
And here's the big point of concern. If these massive tree-torching fires happen too frequently, like every year in the U.S. west, they will wipe out saplings before they can reach maturity. If the fires burn too hot, they will turn large areas of forest and grasslands into a moonscape barren of the seeds needed for new growth. Climate change could fuel conditions for both scenarios.
According to the American Geophysical Union, researchers reported last year that California has seen a rise of 1.4 degrees Celsius in average summertime temperatures since the 1970s. This rise in temperature coincides with a five-fold increase in acreage burned annually/
“In some hotter and drier areas, the climate has shifted to the point where it’s no longer suitable for tree regeneration,” said Kimberley Davis, an ecologist at the University of Montana. “In those areas, once there is a fire, trees won’t grow back.”
Brazil's Pantanal -- the world's biggest tropical wetlands -- is suffering its worst fires...
Brazil's Pantanal -- the world's biggest tropical wetlands -- is suffering its worst fires in more than 47 years
Mauro Pimentel, AFP
In Australia, a system has crashed
In Australia, it is possible to see how climate change has reshaped the landscape. In the southeastern Australian Alps, frequent wildfires since 2003 have caused the forest systems there to collapse, said David Bowman, a fire scientist at the University of Tasmania.
As we’re doing the research project, another fire happened: Then the system crashed,” Bowman said. “It went from a forested state to a non-forested state. No forest, no trees – Kaput.”
The changes we are seeing today seem to be happening at a faster pace than in the not too distant past. “It’s very difficult for ecosystems to adapt to that pace of change,” said Thomas Smith, a geographer at the London School of Economics. “It’s going to be catastrophic in terms of the loss of carbon when you move from forest to non-forest."
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