Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Climate change fuels wildfires

Lloyd’ Wildfires raged out of control across Spain, France, Greece and Italy in late July. Spain was worst hit with at least seven big fires in the south and east, destroying more land in a matter of days than in the whole of 2008. Conditions were ripe following a prolonged heatwave with temperatures in the mid 40 degrees celcius, combined with strong winds that fuelled the fires and spread them over a wide area.

…Southern Europe has seen an increase in such events in recent years and they are likely to become more commonplace in future. “In Southern Europe, climate change is projected to worsen conditions (high temperatures and drought) in a region already vulnerable to climate variability,” says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report.

“Climate change is also projected to increase the health risks due to heat waves and the frequency of wildfires.” Climate change primarily fuels wildfires by encouraging hotter drier conditions.

…A group of US scientists led by California-Merced professor Anthony Westerling found that the incidence of large wildfires in the western US increased dramatically in the mid-1980s. The frequency from 1987 to 2003 was nearly four times the average from 1970 to 1986. The trend “is strongly associated with changes in spring snowmelt timing, which in turn is sensitive to changes in temperature”, according to Westerling.

…From an insurance perspective, the climatic factors—longer fire seasons, hotter summer temperatures, droughts, strong winds—are exacerbated by human development and the accumulation of hazardous fuels….

Wildfire in Madrid, Spain, summer of 2007, shot by Crates, Wikimedia Commons

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