Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Massive California Fires Consistent With Climate Change, Experts Say

Date:
October 24, 2007
Source:
Oregon State University
Summary:
The catastrophic fires that are sweeping Southern California are consistent with what climate change models have been predicting for years, experts say, and they may be just a prelude to many more such events in the future -- as vegetation grows heavier than usual and then ignites during prolonged drought periods.

Images captured by NASA satellites on the afternoon of October 22 show the thick, billowing smoke coming off the numerous large fires and spreading over the Pacific Ocean. Fire activity is outlined in red.
Credit: NASA/MODIS Rapid Response

The catastrophic fires that are sweeping Southern California are consistent with what climate change models have been predicting for years, experts say, and they may be just a prelude to many more such events in the future -- as vegetation grows heavier than usual and then ignites during prolonged drought periods.

"This is exactly what we've been projecting to happen, both in short-term fire forecasts for this year and the longer term patterns that can be linked to global climate change," said Ronald Neilson, a professor at Oregon State University and bioclimatologist with the USDA Forest Service.

"You can't look at one event such as this and say with certainty that it was caused by a changing climate," said Neilson, who was also a contributor to publications of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a co-recipient earlier this month of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

"But things just like this are consistent with what the latest modeling shows," Neilson said, "and may be another piece of evidence that climate change is a reality, one with serious effects."

The latest models, Neilson said, suggest that parts of the United States may be experiencing longer-term precipitation patterns -- less year-to-year variability, but rather several wet years in a row followed by several that are drier than normal.

"As the planet warms, more water is getting evaporated from the oceans and all that water has to come down somewhere as precipitation," said Neilson. "That can lead, at times, to heavier vegetation loads popping up and creation of a tremendous fuel load. But the warmth and other climatic forces are also going to create periodic droughts. If you get an ignition source during these periods, the fires can just become explosive."

The problems can be compounded, Neilson said, by El Niño or La Nina events. A La Niña episode that's currently under way is probably amplifying the Southern California drought, he said. But when rains return for a period of years, the burned vegetation may inevitably re-grow to very dense levels.

"In the future, catastrophic fires such as those going on now in California may simply be a normal part of the landscape," said Neilson.

Fire forecast models developed by Neilson's research group at OSU and the Forest Service rely on several global climate models. When combined, they accurately predicted both the Southern California fires that are happening and the drought that has recently hit parts of the Southeast, including Georgia and Florida, causing crippling water shortages.

In studies released five years ago, Neilson and other OSU researchers predicted that the American West could become both warmer and wetter in the coming century, conditions that would lead to repeated, catastrophic fires larger than any in recent history.

At that time, the scientists suggested that periodic increases in precipitation, in combination with higher temperatures and rising carbon dioxide levels, would spur vegetation growth and add even further to existing fuel loads caused by decades of fire suppression.

Droughts or heat waves, the researchers said in 2002, would then lead to levels of wildfire larger than most observed since European settlement. The projections were based on various "general circulation" models that showed both global warming and precipitation increases during the 21st century.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Oregon State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Oregon State University. "Massive California Fires Consistent With Climate Change, Experts Say." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 October 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071024103856.htm>.
Oregon State University. (2007, October 24). Massive California Fires Consistent With Climate Change, Experts Say. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071024103856.htm
Oregon State University. "Massive California Fires Consistent With Climate Change, Experts Say." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071024103856.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 24, 2014) — The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly known for conflict and instability, is an unlikely place for the production of fine cheese. But a farm in the village of Masisi, in North Kivu is slowly transforming perceptions of the area. Known simply as Goma cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch gouda has gained popularity through out the region. Ciara Sutton reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Higgins Breaks Record at Mt. Washington

Higgins Breaks Record at Mt. Washington

Driving Sports (July 24, 2014) — Subaru Rally Team USA drivers David Higgins and Travis Pastrana face off against a global contingent of racers at the annual Mt. Washington Hillclimb in New Hampshire. Includes exclusive in-car footage from Higgins' record attempt. Video provided by Driving Sports
Powered by NewsLook.com
Storm Kills Three, Injures 20 at Virginia Campground

Storm Kills Three, Injures 20 at Virginia Campground

Reuters - US Online Video (July 24, 2014) — A likely tornado tears through an eastern Virginia campground, killing three and injuring at least 20. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers

Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers

AP (July 24, 2014) — Mobile phone companies and communities across the country are going to new lengths to disguise those unsightly cellphone towers. From a church bell tower to a flagpole, even a pencil, some towers are trying to make a point. (July 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins