Thursday, November 8, 2007

Experts warn changing climate will intensify forest fires

Canadian Underwriter: Climatologists are warning that the recent wildfires in California may be a result of climate change and a taste of things to come, reports Lloyd’s. Models are suggesting the North American west coast is experiencing longer-term precipitation patterns — several wet years in a row, followed by several that are drier than normal, Ronald Neilson, a professor at Oregon State University and bio-climatologist, told Lloyd’s.

These longer “wet” periods encourage vegetation growth, increasing the available fuel for such events, so that when the area does enter a dry period, a forest fire has even more surface vegetation on which to feed, he explained. “As the planet warms, more water is getting evaporated from the oceans and all that water has to come down somewhere as precipitation,” Neilson told Lloyd’s.

“That can lead, at times, to heavier vegetation loads popping up and the creation of a tremendous fuel load. But the warmth and other climatic forces are also going to create periodic droughts. If you get an ignition source during these periods, the fires can just become explosive.”
He noted that one cannot look at an event like the recent fires and say with certainty that it was caused by climate change, but the event is consistent with predictions from the latest models and are “another piece of evidence that climate change is a reality.”

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