More than 6 million acres of American forests burned in 2020. California is still burning. Each acre of forest can absorb around 30,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. Not only is this natural carbon absorption tool now gone, but tons of carbon dioxide are also sent back to the atmosphere. Smoke and ash resulting from wildfires intensifies climate change as they act just like another layer of blanket that prevents the heat from the Earth from escaping. Can this be attributed to climate change?
Wildfire occurrence depends on several factors including temperature, moisture, wind, and the presence of fuel e.g. loose trees and shrubs. These factors can change as climate changes. A higher temperature reduces moisture and extends the warm season which can worsen wildfire. Large fires have doubled in the western USA between 1984-2015. There are indirect influences as well. Higher air temperature results in a rise in the insect population. They damage forests more and more which creates fuel for wildfires. This is perhaps where forest management plays a key role. Loose trees – natural or pest infected – can be removed from forests to reduce the development of wildfires. But the extent to which climate change can be blamed for wildfires is yet to be discussed. A new field of science addresses this question: extreme-event attribution. This field tries to find credit for climate change in risks and extreme events. By running mathematical models, scientists analyze the occurrence of events if global warming was not present today. According to one of these studies in 2016, half of the dryness – as a key variable in a wildfire – in the western USA forests is due to climate change. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that climate change, at least, accelerates the rate at which we are losing our natural assets. The wildfires are not a problem threatening only California. According to new research, even colder areas in the mountains, for example, tend to receive less snow as winters warm up. Snowpack is just like a water tank that adjusts the moisture of the soil by a gradual release of water. A thin snowpack leads to a fast discharge and dry soil which is favorable for a wildfire. This linkage can be seen in other natural phenomena as well. A researcher at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) believes that the link between climate change and recent hurricanes is just like smoking and lung cancer. While not all smokers suffer lung cancer, with smoking the probability of lung cancer increases. A warmer ocean causes hurricanes to be more intense; however, the frequency of occurrence is yet to be analyzed further. But for the moment, it is fair to conclude that without climate change, natural disasters were far less damaging.