Climate Change Spurs Need for Better Fire Management

Controlling fire has never been a strong suit for humans. Now, as climate change sets in, the need for better fire management is becoming dire, according to researchers.
May 8, 2009, 8am PDT | Nate Berg
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"Balch was the lead co-author, with David Bowman, of a recent paper in Science magazine headlined "Fire in the Earth System." That ambitious paper, among other things, suggested that intentionally set fires used to peel back the world's forests for cultivation have generated a fifth of the human-generated carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere in the 250 years since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

Her work is on the burning edge, literally, of wildfire and human-caused - or anthropogenic - fires. When people meet forest, the story is ultimately predictable - expect fire."

"...So while working at different poles of wildfire research - Amazonian wildfires usually creep along at 15 meters an hour, with the flames rarely rising above knee height - both scientists see the potent interaction of people and flame.

Part of it comes from how people manage the lands under their stewardship - setting fires in the Amazon to clear more land for crops or cattle, keeping fires "tamed" in the rural-urban areas where nice homes meet stunning forest vistas, introducing everywhere non-native plants, often grasses that dry to tinder in the late summer.

But they also see something else. Changing climatic conditions, the hook in their Science paper, is creating new behavior in wildfires. It's making those Amazonian wildfires occur in an exponentially quicker cycle, and it's making areas more used to wildfires - such as Victoria state or Balch's current home in Santa Barbara, Calif. - much more inflammable."

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Published on Thursday, May 7, 2009 in Miller-McCune
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