Global warming tied to forest fires

| Thu Jul. 6, 2006 1:56 PM EDT

A government-supported study hits the internets today connecting global warming to the increase, in recent years, in the number of large western wildfires.

AP reports:

Beginning about 1987, there was a change from infrequent fires averaging about one week in duration to more frequent ones that often burned five weeks or more, [researchers] reported. The length of the wildfire season was extended by 78 days.

The researchers said the changes appear to be linked to annual spring and summer temperatures, with many more wildfires burning in hotter years than in cooler years.

They also found a connection between early arrivals of the spring snowmelt in the mountainous regions and the incidence of large forest fires. An earlier snowmelt, they said, can lead to an earlier and longer dry season, which provides greater opportunities for large fires.

Says one researcher, "The increase in large wildfires appears to be another part of a chain of reactions to climate warming," while another calls the findings "one of the first big indicators of climate change impacts in the continental United States."

As the AP story notes, researchers say part of the increase is likely a function of natural fluctuations, but evidence also links it to the effects of human-induced climate warming. The report appears today in the journal Science.

While we're on the subject, check out Mother Jones' recent special issue on global warming.

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