Monday, September 28, 2015

Forest Fires and Global Warming

The recent spate of forest fires in the Western United States raises an interesting question; to what extent are the recent increases in Western forest fires linked to global warming? And more importantly, to what extent could the fires themselves contribute to global warming?

According to a recent article in The Economist, the National Research Council estimates that for every degree of global warming, the amount of Western land burned in North America each year could quadruple. With an estimated 2-degree increase global temperatures expected by the end of this century, that would be a 16-fold increase in land burned by forest fires by 2100. Sixteen-fold!

But this is where it gets really interesting. Trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow, and they release that CO2 into the atmosphere when they are burned. So not only do forest fires add CO2 to the atmosphere, exacerbating the global warming trend; they also reduce the number of trees available to absorb CO2.

It's not going to be pretty for our descendants if we can't get global warming under control soon.

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