Future’s Fires

September 1, 2015

MatsPetersson1Sunshine and windy this Tuesday afternoon on California’s north coast — supposedly, a prospect of rain tonight, but as the NWS notes, a ‘Slight Chance‘ in the making.

Reportedly, and thankfully, the various forest fires burning in northern California has decreased, with just a few of them still keeping fire fighters busy — a good update at Redheaded Blackbelt, but maybe we’re out of the season. Yet, who can tell?

The future appears full of fire, however, despite President Obama in Alaska: ‘“On this issue, of all issues, there is such a thing as being too late. That moment is almost upon us. That’s why we’re here today.”

Obama made no mention of the Shell Oil drilling permit — too-near hypocrisy.

(Illustration: ‘Firewatch‘ series, by Mats Petersson, found here).

Obama, though, is most-likely doing the best he can under the circumstances — via Discovery News:

The challenge “will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other,” he told a conference in Anchorage, before a scheduled visit to a glacier.
“Human activity is disrupting the climate, in many ways faster than we thought,” he said, with one eye on Republicans who reject humans’ role in heating the planet.
“Any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that, any leader who refuses to take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke, is not fit to lead.”
“The science is stark, it is sharpening, and it proves that this once-distant threat is now very much in the present.”
Obama also stressed that climate change “is happening here. It is happening now.”

Along with a shitload of items, one pressing concern is those forest fires. And Alaska is a unique spot to see the unraveling of our environment — a time bomb waiting…
From Germany’s Deutsche Welle:

“Each year, we’re seeing more area being burned,” says Scott Rupp of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska.
“The frequency of these large fire years, and their characteristics, are linked very much to an increase in extreme weather – and there are certainly ties to the increase in variability and changes in longer-term climate trends.”
As the United States’ northernmost state – which sits partially in the Arctic Circle – Alaska is affected by climate change more than anywhere else on earth.
The temperature here is rising twice as fast the average across the country.
In May of this year, Alaska recorded the highest temperatures in more than 90 years.

Rupp says a single bad year like this one could release CO2 accumulated over more than a decade into the atmosphere in a single season.
“All of the sudden, we’ve got all this carbon and methane that’s been locked up, now being able to rapidly start to emit into the atmosphere,” Rupp said.
From 1950 until 2009, he said, forest fires in Alaska have released CO2 equal to half of all carbon emissions from the European Union.
So in Alaska, climate change has set a vicious cycle in motion.
The warmer the temperature, the drier the summer – and so, the greater the risk of forest fires, which then release ever more carbon dioxide.
Worse still, the increasingly frequent fires damage and diminish the surface layer of soil, which provides vital insulation.
Bob Bolton, Rupp’s colleague at Alaska University, explains: “As soon as you start removing that organic layer, it doesn’t take a whole lot to allow heat to penetrate into the subsurface, to actually start thawing the permafrost soil.”

Permafrost is nothing more than frozen earth – and it makes up 80 percent of Alaska’s landmass.
For centuries, it has sealed in the organic waste below, which contains both climate-damaging gases carbon dioxide and methane.
In doesn’t take much to make the permafrost vulnerable to warming, says Bolton.
This triggers a thawing process that becomes virtually unstoppable.
The underlying methane gas penetrates the permeable permafrost, and gets released into the atmosphere.
Climate scientists say methane’s warming effect is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

And the fires have been getting worse — from Climate Central yesterday:

That puts it right in line with trends since the 1970s of more large fires and more acres burned by these large wildfires as the West dries out and heats up according to an updated Climate Central analysis.
Climate change is one of the key drivers helping set up these dry and hot conditions favorable for wildfires.
Spring and summer — two key seasons for wildfires — have warmed 2.1°F across the West, on average.
Some states, particularly those in the Southwest, have warmed even faster.
Add in shrinking snowpack that’s also disappearing earlier, and you have a recipe for a wildfire season that’s now 75 days longer and more devastating than it was in the 1970s.
There’s been a notable increase in the large wildfires — defined as those 1,000 acres or bigger.
A Climate Central analysis of U.S. Forest Service data through 2014 shows that large fires are three-and-a-half times more common now than they were in the ‘70s.
They also burn seven times more acreage in an average year.

Shit is bigger, better and worse with climate change…

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