Fire Earth

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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

Bonanza__TMO_2009214
Bonanza__TMO_2009214_fc
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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