Tag Archives: forest fires

Last month was the worst July for wildfires since records began

Fires on forests and grasslands in July released 343 megatons of carbon emissions, which is about a fifth higher than the previous global record for July, set in 2014, according to EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. This was driven by record heatwaves and prolonged droughts in many parts of the world, which themselves are fueled by climate heating.

Image credit: Flickr / Lotus R

“This stands out by a clear margin,” Mark Parrington, a senior scientist in the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, which estimates the carbon releases, told The Guardian. “The July global total this year is the highest since our records began in 2003.”

More than half of the carbon emissions came just from two regions (North America and Siberia) that have experienced extremely hot and dry weather in the mid-summer season, according to the Copernicus report. This is only the latest in a series of unwelcomed recent records, as the world is feeling the growing effects of the climate change crisis. 

Cities in western provinces of Canada and in the US states of Oregon and Washington saw temperatures above 40ºC (104 ºF) on the last few days, with a new all-time Canadian temperature record of 49.6ºC (120 ºF) in the town of Lytton. The record temperatures led to spikes in sudden deaths and hospitalizations and forest fires in many locations.

A similar scenario was registered in Siberia, where average temperatures have soared up to 10ºC above average in the biggest and coldest region, Yakutia. Much of the area is dense taiga forest, which ignites more easily when hot and dry. Despite efforts to control them, dozens of forest fires raged out of control, with authorities asking people not to go out. 

In a recent study, scientists calculated that climate change dramatically increased the chances of this type of extreme heat happening. The study, not peer-reviewed yet, found that before the industrial era, this type of heatwave just wouldn’t have happened. Even in today’s warming world, the heat was a once-in-a-millennium event, the researchers said.

North of Athens, Greece, thousands of residents recently fled to safety from a wildfire that burned for a fourth consecutive day. The blaze tore through forest areas 20 kilometers north of the capital, tearing apart many homes. Several hundred firefighters dug fire breaks and hosed the flames. Traffic was interrupted on the country’s main highway that connects Athens to northern Greece. 

Meanwhile, in Turkey, eight people have died and thousands have been evacuated from their homes, leaving firefighters battling blazes in several coastal resort towns. A similar scenario was seen in Italy, where the number of large wildfires is estimated to have tripled this summer compared to the yearly average, causing millions worth of damage. 

Upcoming challenges

While Europe deals with a very difficult scenario, in many parts of the world the fire season hasn’t approached its peak yet. That’s especially true in South America and Africa, which contribute a far greater share of associated carbon emissions than Europe. In Brazil, a severe drought is sparking concern that forest fires might remain on the same level as last year.

The government space agency, which uses satellites to monitor forest fires, reported a larger burned area in the month of July than in any July since 2016, according to data released this week. The same was true for June. Most forest fires in Brazil are manmade and often started illegally, as land-grabbers clear forest for cattle or soy crops.

Fires in Brazil usually start increasing in June and peak in September, according to historical data. They can easily get out of control during the dry season, burning large swaths of forest to the ground. Brazil has the world’s largest rainforest and tropical wetlands, the Amazon and the Pantanal, which saw record forest fires in 2019 and 2020. 

Fires in Brazil’s Amazon are the worst in a decade

The Brazilian Amazon is experiencing the worst expansion of forest fires in almost ten years, according to official figures released by the government yesterday. Fires increased 14% in the first nine months of the year compared with a year ago, as the rainforest sees a severe drought.

Image credits: NASA.

The space research agency INPE recorded in September a whopping 32,017 fire hotspots in the Brazilian Amazon — a 61% increase from the same month in 2019. August had already surpassed last year’s single-month high, showing a worrying trendin the world’s largest rainforest.

“We have had two months with a lot of fire. It’s already worse than last year,” Ane Alencar, science director for Brazil’s Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), told Reuters news agency. “It could get worse if the drought continues. We are at the mercy of the rain,” Alencar added.

The Amazon is experiencing a more severe dry season than last year, which scientists link in part to warming in the tropical North Atlantic Ocean pulling moisture away from South America. The entire Amazon, which spans over nine countries (60% of the rainforest is contained within Brazil), currently has 28,892 active fires, according to a fire monitoring tool from NASA.

This time of the year is usually the beginning of the fire season in the Amazon, as farmers and ranchers who have felled trees on their land take advantage of the dryer weather to set them on fire. While this is the common practice, its extension suggests deforestation is ramping up in several areas of the Brazilian Amazon, presumably due to intensified ranch activity.

Environmentalists link the forest fires with President Bolsonaro’s vision of economic development, which essentially allows illegal loggers, cattle ranchers, and miners to destroy the forest with little to no repercussion. Bolsonaro has repeatedly said that mining and farming are needed to take people out of poverty and has shown a lack of interest for the Amazon and has shown no concern for the environmental preservation of the Amazon.

The warming of the North Atlantic is also helping drive drought in the Brazilian Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, which has suffered more fires this year than ever previously recorded, according to official data. A Federal University of Rio de Janeiro analysis found that 23% of the wetlands have already burned. Earlier this week, Bolsonaro, an ally of US President Donald Trump, questioned US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for “disastrous and unnecessary” comments on the destruction of the rainforest. Biden said if elected he would raise $20 billion to help Brazil to “stop tearing down” the Amazon.

Later, in a video address to a UN biodiversity summit, Bolsonaro said Brazil was “firm in its commitment to sustainable development and preserving our environmental wealth.” At the same time, he accused “certain non-governmental organizations” of perpetrating “environmental crimes” to stain the country’s image. But Bolsonaro’s actions do little to match his words.

Brazil is coming under growing pressure from foreign governments, international investors and trading partners over the scale of deforestation and forest fires. In June, investment firms managing nearly $4 trillion in assets sent an open letter to Bolsonaro, urging him to change policies.

Wildfires expand across Northern California amid blistering heatwave

Threatening homes and blackening the skies, a set of wildfires are raging through Northern California while firefighters are struggling to contain them in blistering heat. The fires were caused by lightning strikes and driven by strong winds over thousands of acres.

A helicopter ready to drop water on the fires. Credit Flickr RS2Photography (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The fast-moving blaze has affected rural areas, brushland, canyon country, and dense forest to the south, east, and north of San Francisco. The fires have also made their way through the wine country and the Sierra Nevada. There are about two dozen major blazes, while small fires also keep erupting through the region.

More than 300,000 acres have burned across the state so far this year, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, an increase compared to the 270,000 acres last year — the smallest surface since 2011. This has stretched the state’s firefighting resources to their limit.

A pilot on a water-dropping mission in Fresno County died yesterday when the helicopter crashed an hour away from the New Coalinga Municipal Airport. The pilot was employed by Guardian Helicopters, which was contracted by the state fire agency to provide emergency services on a call-when-needed basis.

The fires erupted at the beginning of the week and expanded rapidly. A severe heatwave and humid air caused record-high temperatures and thunderstorms in the area. Governor Gavin Newsom said yesterday that California had almost 11,000 strikes in only 72 hours, leading to the growing blazes.

Up to 8,000 residents near the Russian River were asked to evacuate due to two fires in the Solano County. Residents of Healdsburg, with a population of 12,000, were warned to be ready to evacuate soon. The air in San Francisco was filled with ash and smoke from seven fires that burned more than 100 buildings and threatened 2,500 others.

The 100,000 residents of Vacaville, located between San Francisco and Sacramento, were woken up before dawn by police and firefighters, who went door to door asking residents to evacuate their homes, according to AP.

In a statement, the California Fire Department said this was “extreme” fire behavior. “Fires are making runs in multiple directions and impacting multiple communities. A critically dry airmass is moving over the area bringing strong winds,” they said, adding four people have been injured, but not clarifying if they were fire firefighters.

The state is still in the midst of a record-breaking heatwave that began last week. Death Valley registered 130 Fahrenheit (54.4ºC), which could be the highest temperature reading on Earth in almost 90 years. Similar records were seen in Woodland Hills, Burbank, and Santa Ana.

Since the 1970s, California wildfires have increased in size eight-fold, with the annual burned area growing by nearly 500%, a study said last year, linking the increase with climate change. The researchers suggested wildfires could grow exponentially in the next 40 years as temperatures continue to rise.

Brazilian Amazon readies for record burn season this year amid coronavirus

An area 11 times the size of New York City could be incinerated this year in the Brazilian Amazon as the annual fire season is set to begin soon. A new report warns that the country could see a “catastrophe” if the peak of the fires overlaps with the current coronavirus epidemic.

According to the Institute for Environmental Research in the Amazon (IPAM), as many as 4,500 square kilometers (1,740 square miles) have already been readied for burns starting July, when the region’s dry season and blazes begin. This would be larger than the forest fires registered last year — when images of the burning Amazon circled the world, shocking readers from all corners of the planet.

Every year, farmers around the Amazon burn down some parts of the rainforest to expand farming activity. Sometimes, the burns are legal; other times, they are not.

As president Jair Bolsonaro continues to cut down on environmental protections, this year is shaping up to be a disaster for the Amazon.

The burned area could even double to some 9,000 square kilometers as tree felling continues, said IPAM, citing data from Brazil’s national space institute. Researchers have already detected the “first major fire of 2020” in the Brazilian Amazon three months ahead of the fire season, so the outlook isn’t positive.

Unlike last year, little stands now on the way of growing deforestation in Brazil. The government officials that have to patrol the rainforest have been sidelined due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has been used by the Brazilian government as an opportunity to weaken environmental regulations and enforcement.

“Deforestation is almost entirely a reflection of public policy signals from President Bolsonaro’s government,” Tasso Azevedo, general coordinator at MapBiomas, a land-use monitoring platform, told Bloomberg. “And what he’s signaling is that illegal actors won’t be punished.”

The smoke generated by a larger fire season could aggravate the chaotic situation caused by the coronavirus outbreak in Brazil. The country already has the world’s second-highest number of cases, at 672,846, according to the Johns Hopkins University site, with growing concerns on the country’s most vulnerable communities. Adding the burden of respiratory problems caused by rainforest burning could be catastrophic for the country’s health system.

Last year, air pollution rose 53% in the Amazon cities near the burned forest and the number of respiratory conditions surged. Health clinics and hospitals in Brazil typically see an increase in patients in the periods when the country experiences forest fires. But beds are already occupied by those infected with the coronavirus. The northern areas of Brazil could see the higher risk, as its death rates from coronavirus exceed by twice the national average.

President Bolsonaro has repeatedly dismissed the criticism towards the situation at the Amazon, claiming the rainforest belongs to Brazil and that its natural resources should be used for the economic development of the country. Foreign interest on the Amazon is only due to countries’ desire to control its mineral resources, he has said.

Defiantly, the country’s Environment Minister Ricardo Salles had said the government should take advantage of the fact that people are distracted by the coronavirus epidemic to move forward in the deregulation of environmental policies. “We have to push through and change all the rules,” he said.

For Russia, it’s not all about coronavirus, as large parts of Siberia are on fire

For Russia, the main concern now isn’t just being one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus epidemic, although 166,000 cases and over 1,500 deaths have been confirmed so far.

A satellite photo from NASA shows the extent of the fires. Credit NASA

Massive areas of Siberia are now on fire, as spring has brought high temperatures across the country. While this happens every year, the number of fires is much larger than usual, and the government is focused on dealing with the coronavirus.

A total of 3,339 fires were recorded at the end of April, much higher than the 1,960 registered on the same time last year. They now cover 477,000 hectares, while last year they only reached 382,000, according to Russia’s Federal Forest Agency.

Nine Siberian regions have been affected by these wildfires, with clouds of smoke sweeping across the Siberian landscape. The fires in the Amur region have consumed one and half times more territory than last year, while in Transbaikal the blaze is three times larger.

Nevertheless, the worst-hit region so far is Krasnoyarsk — the third largest city in Siberia — where the blaze has engulfed 10 times more territory than April last year, according to Russian Emergencies Minister Evgeny Zinichev.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements,” Zinichev told President Vladimir Putin, according to Siberian Times.

The primary causes of the fires are unauthorized and uncontrolled agriculture fires. But extreme heat is also expanding the flames. In recent days, temperatures have reached spikes of as much as 36 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), way above what’s normal for this time of year.

The coronavirus could also be making matters even worse. Russia’s lockdown started with a focus on Moscow in late March and has since spread to the rest of the country. It’s also been extended until May 11. Many city residents left for the countryside to have more space and have been ignoring fire safety rules, according to the Siberian Times. Sergei Anoprienko, head of the federal forest agency, directly blamed the coronavirus lockdown for the rise in fires.

“People self-isolated outdoors and forgot about fire safety rules. In some regions, the temperature is already around 30ºC, and people just can’t keep themselves in their apartments,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told regional and emergency officials that they must be ready for emergencies on wildfires. “All the efforts are now primarily concentrated on countering the spread of the coronavirus. However, this must not divert our attention from other potential threats to people’s lives and safety,” he said.

What’s happening in Siberia could be a preview of what’s to come in other parts of the world. The Amazon’s dry season is about to get started and could be worse than last year’s dangerous fire season. In western North America, wildfire season is also just around the corner.

Australia faces record bushfire outbreak set to last for months

Amid an extreme and persistent drought and growing temperatures, Australia is now facing one of its worst bushfire outbreaks on record. It could take several months to deal with, according to local firefighters.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

Officials already declared a state of emergency for all of New South Wales (NSW), the country’s most populous state. Residents have been advised to leave their homes as three areas in the state are already under “catastrophic” conditions – the highest fire danger in the country’s rating.

The rating is based on a set of factors such as temperature, humidity, wind, and dryness of the landscape. Residents were warned that the fires in some cases can’t be dealt with and that there will be homes that will burn. That’s why people in the most affected areas have been asked to leave.

Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the NSW rural fire services, said: “The real challenge is we have an enormous amount of country that is still alight. They won’t have this out for days, weeks, months. Unfortunately, the forecast is nothing but above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall over the next few months.”

The state of emergency declaration is the first one in more than six years. It gives Fitzsimmons emergency powers such as controlling and coordinating the allocation of government resources, evacuating people from their property and entering or taking possession of the property.

The state has had a massive number of wildfires during the last few weeks, extending over two million acres. That is four times the land area that burned during the whole of 2018. Three people have already died, and more than 150 homes have been destroyed.

Fitzsimmons said the state faced “the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen” and warned that the fire threat would only worsen, especially thinking ahead to the summer. “We have got the worst of our fire season still ahead of us. We’re not even in summer yet,” he said.

There is a growing concern over strong winds that could worsen the fires in other states as well, such as in the case of Queensland or Sidney, with hotter temperatures soon expected. Flames could be sent in new directions and increase fire fronts in NWS and in new states.

More and stronger

A bushfire is a common image in Australia, especially during the summer. Nevertheless, the country has rarely seen this level of intensity and even before the summer actually started – with experts linking this to climate change.

Last year Australia experienced its warmest summer on record. The 2018 State of the Climate report by the local Bureau of Meteorology said climate change has caused an increase in extreme heat events as well as more severe natural disasters.

Deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, from the Nationals party, said concerns over climate change while fires were burning were a “disgrace”. He argued that “they don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time.”

Australia has been questioned for a lack of ambition on its climate action plans. According to the Brown to Green report, the country is not on track for a 1.5ºC world, with a 31% increase in emissions between 1990 and 2016 and a significant expansion of coal.

Forest fires put the Amazon close to its tipping point

In just two years, the Amazon rainforest could reach a tipping point in which it would stop producing enough rain to sustain itself and start slowly converting into a savannah, releasing billions of tons of carbon emissions to the atmosphere, a Brazilian economist warned.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

Usually described as the “lungs of the planet,” the Amazon has been severely affected by a set of forest fires during its latest dry season. The policies of President Jair Bolsonaro were linked to the unusual number of fires, as farmers clear out land for their crops.

Monica de Bolle, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington DC, issued the tipping point warning in a policy brief, which created controversy. Some believe the tipping point is still 15 to 20 years away, while others agree with de Bolle.

“It’s a stock, so like any stock you run it down, run it down – then suddenly you don’t have any more of it,” de Bolle, whose brief also recommended solutions to the current crisis, told The Guardian.

Brazil’s space research institute, INPE, reported that deforestation in August was 222% higher than in August 2018. Maintaining the current rate of increase INPE reported between January and August this year would bring the Amazon close to the estimated tipping point as soon as 2021, de Bolle said.

“If Bolsonaro is serious about developing the Amazon without paying any attention to sustainability or maintaining the forest’s standing, these rates would happen within his mandate,” she added.

One of Brazil’s leading climate scientists and a senior researcher at the University of São Paulo’s, Carlos Nobre questioned her calculation that estimated deforestation would quadruple from an estimate of nearly 18,000 km2 this year to nearly 70,000 km2 by 2021.

“It seems very improbable to me – the projected deforestation increase is more an economic calculation than ecological,” he said. However, he added: “We are seeing an increase in deforestation, I am not questioning this.”

Last year, Nobre argued in an article written with celebrated American conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy that the Amazon tipping point could happen in eastern, southern and central Amazonia when 20% to 25% of the rainforest has been felled – not expected for 20 to 25 years. He has since brought forward his prediction by about five years.

“The Amazon is already 17% deforested, so when you calculate at the current rate of deforestation, this 20% to 25% is reached in 15 to 20 years,” he said. “I hope she is wrong. If she is right, it is the end of the world.”

Lovejoy, a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, said that de Bolle’s projection could come true because global heating, soaring deforestation and an increase in Amazon fires have created a “negative synergy” that is accelerating its destruction – citing droughts in recent years as a warning sign.

“We are seeing the first flickering of that tipping,” he told The Guardian. “It’s sort of like a seal trying to balance a rubber ball on its nose … the only sensible thing to do is to do some reforestation and build back that margin of safety.”

Among other commitments under the Paris climate deal, Brazil agreed to reforest 12m hectares and end illegal deforestation by 2030. Mongabay reported last month that Brazil looks increasingly unlikely to meet its Paris targets. Deforestation began rising under Rousseff in 2013 after nine years of decline and has accelerated under Bolsonaro.

Two million animals die in Bolivia due to forest fires

As a result of the raging forest fires that continue to burn in areas of Latin America, more than two million wild animals have died in Bolivia, including jaguars, pumas, and llamas, among many others.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Scientists estimate about 2.4 million animals perished in fires burning in protected forest and grassland areas, such as the tropical savannas of the Chiquitania region in eastern Bolivia.

“We have consulted the biologists of Chiquitania and we have exceeded the estimate of more than 2.3 million missing animals in many protected areas,” Professor Sandra Quiroga of Santa Cruz University said.

More than 34,000 fires have so far affected Bolivia. They have been linked to farmers clearing land for their crops, as well as extended dry periods. Sergio Vasquez, a disaster response manager at World Animal Protection, described it as the biggest emergency Bolivia has ever seen.

The main victims of the fires have been Latin American ocelots, and other wild cats like pumas and jaguars, as well as deer, llamas — and smaller forest animals like anteaters, badgers, lizards, tapirs, and rodents, according to biologists investigating the scale of the damage.

“The forest is totally charred, and the damage is irreversible. It will never get back to normal,” said Quiroga.

Among the country’s nine departments, eastern Santa Cruz has been the hardest hit since the fires began in May and intensified in late August. Back then, the government enlisted special firefighting planes, a Supertanker Boeing 747 and a Russian Ilyushin, as well as helicopters, 5,000 firefighters, soldiers and police

Nevertheless, the fires have still not been extinguished. Environmentalists blame laws enacted under leftist President Evo Morales, who has encouraged the burning of forest and pastureland to expand agricultural production. The government attributes the blazes to dry weather and flame-fanning winds.

The situation faced by Bolivia is not much different than what’s happening in the Brazilian Amazon, though Brazil has received far more attention. In Brazil, the fires are also endangering the countless species but with no clear understanding of the consequences yet.

“The scale, intensity, and velocity of fire destruction are alarming and more intense than any other threat in comparable timescales,” Esteban Payan, the South America regional director for Panthera, said. “This is so alarming because there isn’t an equivalent collective response.”

What is happening in the Amazon? Key questions and answers

Wildfires are raging throughout the Amazon forest, making headlines worldwide and pushing the world’s largest forest closer and closer to an ecological “tipping point” at which the forest could irretrievably degrade into drylands.

But is be a complex story, and online discussion has been riddled with misinformation, misleading photos, and outright errors. To fill in the gaps and bust some common myths, we answered some of the key questions regarding the forest fires.

Credit: Flickr

What is happening in the Amazon now?

Fires are burning in Brazil and Bolivia, many of them in the world’s llargest rainforest, the Amazon, sending clouds of smoke across the region and pumping alarming quantities of carbon into the world’s atmosphere.

So far this year, almost 73,000 fires have been detected, which marks an 83% increase from 2018 and the highest number on record since 2013. In several states across Brazil, the amount of ash and other particulates in August has hit the highest level since 2010.

Is all the Amazon forest under fire?

No, images of an entire forest ablaze are exaggerated. There has been misinformation spread in social media, using images of previous years’ burning seasons. There are larger fires in Colombia and eastern Brazil than in the Amazon. While there are fires in protected areas, most of them are in already deforested ones.

What’s causing the forest fires?

The fires are mostly caused by farmers clearing forest for cropland or burning stubble after the harvest season. Illegal land-grabbers are also responsible, destroying trees to raise the value of the property they seize. They are manmade and, in many cases, deliberate. Unlike the recent forest fires in Siberia and Alaska, the Amazon fires are very unlikely to have been caused by lightning. Many of the fires can be linked to deforestation for soy crops, which is used to feed cattle and pigs to support the ever-growing demand for meat.

Why is the Amazon so important?

The Amazon rainforest is known as the “planet’s lungs,” because it provides a large part of the Earth’s atmospheric oxygen. The rainforest also removes vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and stores it, which can help slow down global warming. Additionally, the rainforest is home to more than 3 million species of plants and animals, representing the most biodiversity in the world. Millions of indigenous people also live in the Amazon rainforest.

If the Amazon is the planet’s lungs, should we worry about oxygen?

No. The crops being planted in the cleared forest areas would also produce oxygen, quite likely at higher levels. So, although the burning of the rainforest is worrying for many reasons, there is no need to worry about an oxygen shortage.

If it’s not oxygen, what are the consequences of the forest fires?

It’s mostly CO2 and ecosystem destruction. Mostly illegal, the forest fires are degrading the world’s biggest terrestrial carbon sink and most important home for biodiversity. They also contribute to a rise in deforestation in the region. Scientists argue the Amazon is approaching a tipping point, after which it will irreversibly degrade into a dry savannah. This is happening at a time when the world needs billions of more trees to absorb carbon and stabilize the climate.

How much forest is being lost?

Deforestation spiked in July to a level not seen in more than a decade. Trees were being cleared at the rate of five football pitches every minute, according to Brazil’s space agency. Over the single month, 2,254 sq km (870 sq miles) were lost, a rise of 278% in the same month last year. This year could be the first for 10 years in which 10,000 sq km of Amazon are lost.

Brazil had been able to slow down deforestation by 80% between 2005 and 2014. This was done with strict monitoring, better policing and stiffer penalties. But that system has been eroded in recent years and many fear a return to the alarming levels of forest loss that occurred two decades ago.

Is the Brazilian national government the one to blame?

Yes, at least in part. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro weakened the country’s environment agency, attacking conservation NGOs and promoting the opening of the Amazon to mining, farming, and logging. He also dismissed satellite data on deforestation and fired the head of the space agency. Alongside Bolsonaro, the agricultural lobby is powerful in Brazil and it has steadily eroded the protection system that was so successful from 2005-2014.

How is Brazil being helped by the rest of the world?

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, world leaders, and celebrities have expressed their concern about the situation in Brazil. The issue was one of the main topics in the G7 leaders’ summit in France, with countries committing to release US$22 million to help stop the fires. Brazil’s neighboring countries Argentina and Uruguay have also offered help to Brazil.

If the fires are stopped, could the Amazon be fully restored?

Yes. The areas in the Amazon that are currently being burned have a high restoration potential because the Amazonian ecosystem is incredibly resilient, and also because so many areas that are degraded are in close proximity to the intact forest. Nevertheless, it will take time and effective efforts to leave the forest alone. Naturally regenerating tropical forests take about 20 years for forest cover to come back.

What can individuals do?

No matter how far you live from the Amazon rainforest, you are probably benefiting from all that it gives to the Earth.

There are a few things you can do to show your support, such as donating to donating highly-rated charities that are fighting to protect the Amazon, such as Amazon Watch. Also, you can reduce your beef and dairy consumption, activities that can lead to deforestation — this is probably the most important and significant thing you can do. Lastly, pushing your politicians to take action on these issues, both locally and globally. At the very least, being aware (and spreading awareness) can also amount to something.

Climate change drives California’s forest fires

The state of California has seen during the last two years a record number of seasonal wildfires, leading to a set of disastrous blazes. While there are many reasons behind them, climate change hasn’t been on the list – until now.

Helicopter drops fire retardant on the Happy Camp Complex Fire in the Klamath National Forest in California. Credit: US Department of Agriculture (Flickr)

 

Since the 1970s, California wildfires have increased in size eight-fold, with the annual burned area growing by nearly 500%, a study published in Earth’s Future journal said, linking the increase with climate change.

“Human-caused warming has already significantly enhanced wildfire activity in California, particularly in the forests of the Sierra Nevada and North Coast and will likely continue to do so in the coming decades,” the authors of the paper wrote.

The study concluded that the summer forest fires that recently affected the North Coast and Sierra Nevada regions have a strong connection to arid ground conditions brought on by increasing heat. It suggested that wildfires could grow exponentially in the next 40 years, as temperatures continue to rise.

When air heats up even modestly, it causes more moisture to evaporate from soils and vegetation, researchers explained. This leads to fires starting easier and spreading faster and farther. Hotter temperatures cause drier land, which causes a parched atmosphere.

“It’s not a surprise to see that climate has this effect in forests, but California is so big and so variable, there is no one-size-fits-all explanation for how climate might affect wildfires across the board,” said the study’s lead author, Park Williams.

Williams and colleagues noted that average summer temperatures in the state have risen 3.25 degrees Fahrenheit since 1896, with three-quarters of that increase occurring since the early 1970s. From 1972 to 2018, the area burned annually has increased fivefold mainly by a more than an eightfold spike in summer forest fires.

The study noted that the effects of climate are highly seasonal, and can vary depending on vegetation type, topography and human settlement patterns across California’s highly diverse landscape.

For example, summer fires did not increase in many non-forested areas dominated by grasses or shrubs. This, they say, was probably due to a combination of intense firefighting and prevention efforts, and reduced vegetation due to drought. In fall, destructive fires have grown, but the effects of a warming climate are not clear yet.

“Revisit this in 20 more years, and we’ll almost definitely be saying, ‘Yeah, fall fires have the global-warming fingerprint on them.’ But right now, we’re still emerging from the range of natural variability,” Williams said.