Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wildfires threaten an expanse of northern Canada the size of Texas

Ben Makuch in Motherboard: t's been more than twenty years since the Northwest Territories, one of Canada’s northernmost remote jurisdictions comprising parts of the North Pole, experienced extreme drought conditions of the magnitude it's currently enduring. That extreme drought has fueled wildfires now affecting much of the NWT, a territory almost twice the size of Texas.

So much smoke is being produced by the burning forests of the boreal region that the jet stream is carrying it to parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and even as far as North and South Dakota. One look at an image outlining the extent of the damage and you get a feel for the biblical size and scope of the inferno burning across the territory.

A redditor from NWT put it best when he or she posted a similar image of the fires with the caption, “I live in Canada’s Northwest Territories and we are on fire (literally).” As of July 10, roughly 168 fires have consumed over 425,000 hectares of prime boreal forest in an area of Canada regarded for its natural beauty and untouched ruggedness.

Officials told the CBC some of the fires—at least 13—started because of human causes, such as people tossing cigarette butts or campers setting campfires in places where there were fire bans. In addition, the continuous burning is no doubt due to lightning striking the hot and dry forests of the NWT, which has been desperate for rain since the spring melt.

There's another factor at play, as well: the climate. Record droughts in the NWT will become more common as the region warms. In a 2008 government report on climate change, researchers outlined the several observable changes to the vast forests of the territory.  “Warmer weather, along with changes in precipitation and evaporation, is increasing the risk of forest fires in some parts of the boreal forest,” said the report, adding that while some areas will burn more often, others will receive higher levels of rainfall....

A 2004 crown fire experiment in Northwest Territories, shot by Bunk S: World on Fire. PLoS Biol 2/2/2004: e54. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020054.g001, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license

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