The more forests and grasslands burn, the more carbon dioxide enters our atmosphere, and the less vegetation we have to mop up all that CO2 after the fact.
The survey figured out that global warming is producing wildfire occasions even worse every year and also that this fad will not stop later in the week.
But the new research – published Tuesday in Nature Communications, and dubbed a work of “global pyrogeography” by its authors – shows that a changing climate is indeed likely altering wildfires, and doing so on a global scale. “Climate is a well-known driver of wildfire behavior”, notes a recent study of the factors behind increased expenditures on combating wildfires in the west.
“Wildfires occur at the intersection of dry weather, available fuel and ignition sources”, the study authors write.
From the 600 fires that claimed more than 50 lives in Russian Federation in 2010, to the series of major bushfires in Australia in 2013 that caused .4bn of damage, wildfires affect much of the world’s surface.
“Fire weather season length and long fire weather season affected area significantly increased across all vegetated continents except Australia”, they reported.
For the study, Jolly teamed up with scientists form the US and Australia and had the support of various universities and institutions.
To put these numbers in a bit more context, the researchers plotted their fire weather season findings on a map of the Earth.
According to the study, in the past 35 years there has been a steady and worrying increase in the number of wildfires recorded. Fires threaten to worsen the deforestation that has already destroyed much of the region’s forest land.
Plants pull in carbon dioxide in the process of photosynthesis – meaning that they partly offset human greenhouse gas emissions.
Their results show that the fire season has lengthened by an average of 19% for a quarter of the global vegetated area. But when a wildfire occurs, the vegetation is turned to ashes and the carbon is released back in the atmosphere thus making the planet warmer.
The study also looked at “long” fire seasons, defined as any season more than one standard deviation longer than the historical average season for that area.
Indeed, the researchers used a weighted phrase in climate science circles to describe what’s going on – “positive feedback”, a self-reinforcing process (sometimes also called a vicious cycle).
It’s the season when wildfires rage, and this year they’re raging particularly hard: In June alone, Alaska saw 1.1 million acres go up in flames.
The effects of the wildfires are devastating for the local communities that are faced with tremendous losses and devastation and for the natural world that burns away, leaving a great many victims behind.