Wildfires burn twice as many trees today as two decades ago

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According to a study by the University of Maryland’s Global Land Analysis Discovery (GLAD) laboratory, wildfires burn nearly twice as many trees today as they did 20 years ago.

Researchers have found that a typical wildfire season burns 3 million hectares more than in 2001. Wildfires have accounted for a quarter of the world’s tree loss over the past 20 years, according to a summary of data produced by the World Resources Institution.

In the United States this year alone, several large wildfires in California have burned nearly 200,000 acres and killed at least four people, CalFire data shows. A notable blaze has threatened the nation’s oldest trees in Yosemite National Park, while the largest blaze on the California-Oregon border has killed at least four people and scorched more than 60,000 acres.

Globally, several massive wildfires have engulfed large forests in different corners of the world, showing the growing extent of destructive fires.

In Europe, large wildfires have affected at least a dozen countries, burning more than 600,000 hectares of land, according to information from Reuters. Large fires darkened the skies in Portugal and France at the start of the summer, fueled by a dry summer and temperatures that exceeded the century.

According to the Moscow Times, wildfires in the largely wild wilderness of Russia’s Siberia and Far East regions have burned more than 3.2 million hectares of forest so far this year, covering several cities of toxic smoke. Elsewhere in Asia, parts of China are currently battling numerous wildfires amid China’s worst heatwave since 1961.

Warming temperatures due to human-induced climate change are a significant factor in worsening wildfire conditions globally. As the atmosphere warms, the usually lush forests dry out and become more vulnerable to fires.

Surprising amount of dry lightning hits California, fueling fire risk

Dried up forests can act as a powder keg, allowing fires to spiral out of control. Large fires release even more carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, contributing to further global warming. The World Resources Institute calls this cycle the fire-climate feedback loop, and little can be done to slow it apart from dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A changing climate has ignited the boreal forests like never before. About 70 percent of all tree losses caused by fire in the past 20 years have occurred in these forests, which are found in northern regions of the planet and are warming at higher rates than in d other parts of the globe.

In 2021 alone, 6.67 million hectares of tree cover were lost in boreal forests, compared to just 1.16 million hectares lost in tropical forests like the Amazon, according to the GLAD laboratory of the UMD. In both cases, however, the loss of these trees and the thawing of the permafrost threaten to release old stores of carbon, turning vast forests from climate-healthy carbon sinks into accidental polluters.

In tropical forests, agriculture and increasing deforestation have increased the risk of wildfires while making forests less fire resistant. The expansion of industry and agriculture in these previously untouched parts of the globe means that most fires in tropical rainforests are started by people, instead of being ignited naturally by lightning.

Although analysis shows that fire-related tree loss in Brazil increased in 2016 and has since declined, the number of trees lost to wildfires in the past five years is still several times greater than what it was in the early years of the 21st century.

The threat of wildfires is only expected to grow globally, as the climate is all but guaranteed to continue to warm. Nevertheless, mitigation efforts can be implemented.

5 takeaways from the latest UN climate change report

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2022 report found that each additional increase in warming will lead to more devastation and death from a variety of climate hazards, meaning that continued cooler temperatures of a tenth of a degree Celsius could have a substantial effect. impact.

For boreal forests, keeping warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) is essential. IPCC scientists say some of the worst-case warming scenarios would lead to 15 years of greenhouse gas emissions from the huge carbon stores in these regions, which could be curbed if temperatures are kept below 3. 6 degrees Fahrenheit. threshold.

Humans can also change the way they interact with forests – halting deforestation and limiting agricultural techniques like slash-and-burn agriculture can help improve forest resilience, especially in the tropics. When conditions are hot and dry, experts say people should also avoid activities that can start fires near forests, as even a small fire can quickly spiral out of control.

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