Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Climate change perspective: Canada in flames

With ongoing climate change, we often get both type of weather extremes at the same time. While Canada was battered with record floods in Calgary and Toronto, huge megafires were recently raging in Nothern Quebec. According to available statistics (see below) this fire is the 3rd largest since at least 1959, and has burned almost as much forest (1.6 mil. acres) as all forest fires this year in the US.

Here is the fire as seen from space by MODIS spectroradiometer:

And here is the same fire from the ground:

Let's look at the at the historical size of the wildfires in Canada from 1959, when the data are available:

The Eastmain fire is the 3rd largest in the history of Canada given that no bigger fires occured after 2000. Source: Canadian Forest Service.

Anf if we look at the longer-term perspective of the area of forest fires since 1921, we see a trend of an increased fire activity:

Source: Flannigan and de Groot 2009 (PDF presentation).

Regarding the tragic death of 19 firefighters this year in Arizona, lets look at the forest fires data from USA:
Six of the record fire seasons all occured after 2004. Source: National Interagency Fire Center.

The increase of wildfires is the combination of climate change and of aggressive fire suppresion after the WW2, so that the forests have grown much denser. Once they start to burn, crown fires are almost impossible to extinquish. Climate change and associated increased drought (less soil moisture), higher temperatures and more intense heatwaves add to the deadly combination. Forests in Western US are therefore in greatest fire deficit for at least 3000 years

But compared to Russia, US forests seem quite healthy! Look at the following graph:

Blue and red circles show yearly size of burned forests in Russia according the two methodologies, green circles show size of burned forest in USA over the longer time period (as show in previous graph alone).

In Russia this fire season seems to be a quiet one (as opposed to extreme years of 2010, or 2012), so no worries. Why then, an oil and natural gas rich country needs to borrow 40 mil dollars from the World Bank to fight forest fires?

So clearly, we see a taste of what will happen to our forests if climate change continues unabated.

1 comment:

  1. I fear things will go worse due the quite probable cuts and underinvestments in firefighting, increasing costs of maintenance of the infrastructure and other issues related to the actual diminishing economical and/due energy resources.
    On the other hand, probably people will go back to the forests to obtain wood and other goods to keep their home warm and also as a supply of energy, food and such, due the same reasons. In the first stages, this will help to clean the forests of excessive 'fuel', but in the long term, it can turn into deforestation, not only to obtain biomass, food and energy, but also to increase the farming area.
    The also quite probable scenario of energy policies switching back to coal wouldn't help neither.