New Study Links Climate Change To Increased Western Wildfire Activity

New Study Links Climate Change To Increased Western Wildfire Activity

3:52pm Oct 24, 2017
Over one million acres have burned across California in 2017 according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. (Credit: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

A recent study out of Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro finds that climate change and the massive wildfires in California are related.  

It has to do with Arctic sea ice. That’s been monitored since 1979, and since then there’s been an 11 percent decrease in ice per decade.

When the ice melts, the jetstream is affected - essentially creating thermodynamic waves resulting in warm and dry conditions in the Western United States. This is called an atmospheric "teleconnection," meaning what happens in one part of the world can have an effect in another part.

Dr. Peter Soulé with Appalachian State University says that while this is not the singular cause of increased wildfires, it plays a major role. 

“The loss of sea ice impacts upper level flow, which impacts the soil moisture regime, which in turn makes it more conducive for wildfires," says Soulé. "If it’s warmer and drier, we’re going to see more wildfires. And the perturbations we’re seeing in the jetstream, which we think are related to Arctic sea ice, we think that's the cause of what we’re seeing on the surface with the warmer, drier conditions.”

Soulé notes that the combination of 2017 being California’s warmest summer on record and unusually high winds helped fuel the fires. He also points out that humans are changing atmospheric composition by burning fossil fuels, which changes the overall climate and makes the environment more conducive to extreme weather events.

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