Fire Earth

Earth is fighting to stay alive. Mass dieoffs, triggered by anthropogenic assault and fallout of planetary defense systems offsetting the impact, could begin anytime!

Alaska on Fire

Posted by feww on August 4, 2009

First the Beetles Attacked!

Climate change is permanently changing the face of Alaska, Earth

In Alaska, 35 percent forest, climate change is causing irreversible changes including droughts, forest fires, and infestations of tree-killing insects like spruce beetles and spruce budworm moths. In the last 15 years, the spruce beetles, which thrive in warmer climates, have destroyed a total of about 3 million acres (1.21 million hectares) of spruce forest in south-central Alaska.

More Than 1 Million Acres Burning in Interior Alaska

Large wildfires that began in July continued to burn in interior Alaska in the first week of August 2009. These images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite on August 2 show some of the state’s largest blazes and the thick pall of smoke they were creating. The top image is a natural-color (photo-like) view of the area, while the lower image combines visible, shortwave-, and near-infrared light to make burned areas (brick red) stand out better from unburned vegetation (bright green). In this kind of false-color image, the bright pink areas along the perimeters of the fires are often a sign of open flame.

According to the August 3 report from the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, 483 fires were burning across the state, affecting about 2.4 million acres. The Railbelt Complex was the largest at an estimated 462,298 acres. The Tanana River appears to be creating a natural firebreak at the northern edge of the fire, which is spreading to the south. To the east, the smaller Wood River Fire (107,634 acres) has bright pink spots along both its northern and southern perimeters. Both these fires, as well as the Big Creek Fire (145,652 acres) and Little Black One Fire (292,907 acres) along the Yukon River, were triggered by lightning. NASA images courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team. Caption by Rebecca Lindsey.

References: Alaska Interagency Coordination Center Situation Report, Monday–08/03/2009

Alaska Warming Rapidly

Alaska has experienced an average warming of 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 °F) and about 4.5 °C (8°F) in the inner regions in winter months since the 1960s, the largest regional warming of anywhere in the U.S., according to records.

The warmer temperature means Alaska’s peat bogs, which are nearly 14,000 years old, are drying up. Ed Berg, an ecologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has discovered that shrubs and other plants have been rooting in areas of peat big normally too soggy for woody plants to grow during the last three decades.

As the areas of beetle-infested forest grow, more land is clear-cut and land speculation frenzy grows.

Wetlands are a natural defense mechanism retarding forest fires. The warmer weather and drier forest therefore could lead to more forest fires.

Drying or burning peat bogs, which comprise 50-60 percent carbon, would release additional carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere.

Yoho National Park in British Columbia
An unusual pattern is left by forest fire as seen in this photograph of a mountain in Yoho National Park in British Columbia west of the Alberta border in this August 8, 2005 file picture. REUTERS/Andy Clark. Image may be subject to copyright.

Human activity is ultimately responsible for the intensity and frequency of most present-day forest fires like Alaska’s; to call them ‘wildfires,’ therefore, is disingenuous and unintelligent.

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3 Responses to “Alaska on Fire”

  1. Steve said

    You have incorrectly reported that these fires were caused by intense human activity. Fires in Alaska this year and in the past are mostly caused by lightning and other natural events. This year, one fire in 30 was lit by a human.

    Steve 😉

    • feww said

      Intense human activity causes forests to lose their natural resistance to a host of hazards including pests… and fire.
      Then again we are talking round earth science and that’s too far beyond comprehension for the 2D mappers, right?

  2. terres said

    U.S., Canadian forests fall to beetle outbreak
    By Ed Stoddard

    MEDICINE BOW NATIONAL FOREST, Wyoming (Reuters) – From the vantage point of an 80-foot (25 meter) tower rising above the trees, the Wyoming vista seems idyllic: snow-capped peaks in the distance give way to shimmering green spruce.

    But this is a forest under siege. Among the green foliage of the healthy spruce are the orange-red needles of the sick and the dead, victims of a beetle infestation closely related to one that has already laid waste to millions of acres (hectares) of pine forest in North America.

    “The gravity of the situation is very real,” said Rolf Skar, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace.

    The plague has cost billions of dollars in lost timber and land values and may thwart efforts to combat climate change, as forests are major storing houses of carbon, the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming.

    The beetle outbreak, which has taken a lesser, but mounting, toll on spruce trees, could make it that much tougher to meet the ambitious target to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.

    That is laid out in a climate bill that narrowly passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and waits Senate debate.

    Many researchers have also linked the infestation in the U.S. and Canadian West to climate change, notably a dearth of winters cold enough to kill the voracious little bugs.

    “Pine beetle infestations are cyclical in nature and have been occurring for thousands of years but what is making things worse now is the effects of global warming,” said Skar.

    “If you don’t have the real cold extremes to kill off the larvae under the bark you are going to have extreme infestation events,” he said.


    In the Medicine Bow National Forest, scientists are getting a first-hand look at the carbon implications.

    The forest is home to the U.S. Forest Service’s Glacier Lakes Ecosystem Experiments site in a tower with gadgets that, among other things, examine the “carbon flux” of the forest.

    The site was established a decade ago, before the spruce beetle infestation, and gives scientists a unique chance to measure the changes to carbon storage wrought by the insects.

    “We are getting readings here every half hour,” said Colorado-based U.S. Forest Service scientist Mike Ryan, shouting above the wind as he pointed to an instrument that measures carbon. This gas analyzer resembles a small space capsule on the end of horizontal a metal pole.

    In the terminology of trees and carbon, a healthy forest is a net “sink,” with trees storing carbon as they grow. When they die and rot they “emit” carbon back into the atmosphere, and so a dead or dying forest becomes a “net source” of greenhouse gas, meaning it emits more carbon dioxide than it stores.

    Ryan said the net carbon storage in this patch of woods is about half of what it was three or four years ago. In another three or four years, he believes it will become a net source.


    This scenario is being replayed across the West. In Colorado, aerial surveys show that from 1996 to 2008 Colorado lost almost 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of pine forest to the beetle outbreak, Wyoming 677,000 acres and South Dakota 354,000 acres.

    Over the same period of time, the spruce beetle, which has also ravaged forests as far north as Alaska, took out 374,000 acres of spruce trees in Colorado and 340,000 in Wyoming.

    That cumulative total of over 6 million acres (2.5 million hectares) is an area larger than […] South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

    Farther north in Canada, the pine beetle has attacked trees over an area of about 39 million acres (14.5 million hectares) in British Columbia since the 1990s.

    The sheer scale of the damage can be seen northwest of Denver in Colorado’s Yampa Valley. Vast tracts of formerly evergreen forest now have huge splashes of orange running through them.

    According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, a third of the United States’ land area is covered in forest but it is only expanding at a rate of about 0.1 percent per year.


    A forest can recover, but that can take decades.

    “Most forests will recover the carbon they lose but if the next 50 to 100 years is important we may not have that much time. It’s setting back carbon storage efforts,” said Ryan.

    Forest growth in the United States currently sucks up about 12 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. “That’s a big number. To get another 10 percent you would have to convert a third of U.S. agriculture land to forest,” said Ryan.

    The outbreak has other consequences. It is creating huge fire hazards as it leaves mountains of combustible wood in its wake. In a worrying trend, it also has spread from lodgepole pine to ponderosa pine.

    There are expenses for landowners as well.

    On his ranch in northern Colorado, mountain realtor Bill McClelland points to a dying tree and says: “A week ago that tree was green. I’ve lost another one.”

    In May, he had to cut 476 pines on his property and then have them ground into wood chips — an expensive operation that is one of the few ways to contain the outbreak. He reckons an infestation will generally shave about 20 percent of the value off a private wood lot or ranch.

    Past beetle outbreaks have been stopped by very cold winters but recent winters have not been cold enough.

    Another factor scientists attribute to the outbreak is past forest clearance and fires that saw large areas cleared.

    Often when this happens, the forest that regrows in its place will have huge patches of trees the same age and this makes them susceptible to a collective attack when they mature at the same time into the older trees that the bugs favor.

    The beetles may collectively wreak havoc by nesting and feeding in the trees but they look harmless enough as individuals, not least because they are so tiny.

    At Medicine Bow, Ryan points to a few writhing in a glass jar that have been trapped on the trunk of a spruce tree.

    “Until we get a big cold spell they are going to go on until they have nothing to eat,” he said.

    (Additional reporting by Allan Dowd in Vancouver; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

    © Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

    [Note: two instances of subliminal mind conditioning have been removed from the above report. TERRES]

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