30 Years of Satellite Data Prove Wildfires Are Getting Bigger, More Frequent

30 Years of Satellite Data Prove Wildfires Are Getting Bigger, More Frequent

18 April 2014

published by http://motherboard.vice.com

USA — It doesn’t just seem like there are more wildfires ripping across the US each year; new research has confirmed that since the 80s, major blazes are indeed on the rise. Scientists from the Univeristy of Utah and UC Berkeley used satellite documentation to chart every wildfire larger than 1,000 acres that’s been spawned in every American ‘ecoregion’ since 1984. Their conclusion? More and bigger fires.

“For all ecoregions combined, the number of large fires increased at a rate of seven fires per year while total fire area increased at a rate of 355 km2 per year,” the researchers write in a new paper just puplished in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. That’s about 90,000 acres, or, as the release points out, an area the size of Las Vegas. So, we’re seeing an average of seven more fires a year than we were thirty years ago, and an additional sprawling neon amusement park for adults-sized area razed to the ground, too.

The southwest and mountainous parts of the nation are being hardest hit: “trends were most significant for southern and mountain ecoregions, coinciding with trends towards increased drought severity.”

The link between drought and wildfires is pretty well-established; the drier a region is, the more primed its kindling to blaze. Without rain or moisture to impede them, fires grow rampant. That’s partly why NASA projects a rise in forest fires here on out, as climate change continues to reduce rainfall and decrease evaporation in the world’s arid areas.

In this latest study, the scientists don’t single out climate change alone for the rise in wildfires—though they do finger it as a primary culprit—they also blame past fire prevention efforts and other woes. But it’s definitely human-caused.

“We looked at the probability that increases of this magnitude could be random, and in each case it was less than one percent,” Philip Dennison, a professor at the University of Utah and lead author of the paper, said in a statement.

And, like NASA, the researchers expect the burn to accelerate. “Continuing changes in climate, invasive species, and consequences of past fire suppression, added to the impacts of larger, more frequent fires, will drive further disruptions to fire regimes of the western US and other fire-prone regions of the world,” the authors write.

Large parts of the post-400 ppm world, in other words, are going to be hot, dry, and increasingly fiery.

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