BOISE, Idaho — A new study released this week finds strong evidence there could be a major increase in wildfires over the next century in places across the globe, including the western United States.
The report is published in Ecosphere by the Ecological Society of America and suggests the western U.S. could be a fire hotspot by 2070. Study authors say the information they gathered shows an increase in wildfires could disrupt the worlds ecosystem and human well-being. A study like this is an important first step in determining fire vulnerabilities to humans.
“In the long run, we found what most fear — increasing fire activity across large parts of the planet,” said study lead author Max Moritz in a press release issued by the University of California at Berkeley. “But the speed and extent to which some of these changes may happen is surprising.”
“These abrupt changes in fire patterns not only affect people’s livelihoods,” added Moritz, who is, fire specialist in UC Cooperative Extension. “But they add stress to native plants and animals that are already struggling to adapt to habitat loss.”
The study is based on a combination of historical data and scientific based projections. It predicts that parts of the U.S. including portions of Idaho, Washington and Oregon will more susceptible to fire. That’s because they’ll have warmer temperatures and abundant vegetation.
“Much of the western U.S., in particular, shows strong agreement for the largest increases. Overall it’s a more fire prone situation across much of the western U.S.,” Moritz told NPR.
The study used 16 different climate change models to generate what the researchers said is one of the most comprehensive projections to date of how climate change might affect global fire patterns.
While the results aren’t surprising, this is one of the few studies that takes into account future fire risks on a global scale. The study could in theory provide a more accurate result because it does take into account many climate studies and outcomes.
There is a certain level of uncertainly in the next few decades, according to the report’s models, on whether fire activity will rise or fall across about half the planet. The researchers sorted through dozens of fire projection models. To get a baseline, they studied dozens of new satellite photos of recent fires.
“Most of the previous wildfire projection studies focused on specific regions of the world, or relied upon only a handful of climate models,” said study co-author Katharine Hayhoe, associate professor and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, according to the UC Berkeley press release.
Helping to support the study: the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Science Foundation and The Nature Conservancy helped support this study.
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