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Global Fire Crisis: A Burning Concern

Hey there, folks! Let’s talk about something that’s been heating up the headlines – the surge in extreme wildfires across the globe. Recent research using satellite data has confirmed what many have feared: over the past 21 years, the frequency and intensity of these wildfires have significantly increased.

Now, not all fires are created equal. Sure, some play a beneficial role in ecosystems, but it’s the extreme blazes that are really shaking things up. These raging infernos release massive energy, impacting our planet and society in profound ways. Think smoke, carbon emissions, ecological damage, and compromised air quality.

The study, analyzing NASA satellite data, paints a concerning picture of how extreme wildfires are on the rise, especially in regions like North America. And guess what’s fanning the flames? Climate change. Yep, the changing climate is making the air drier, fuel more flammable, summers longer, and fire weather more severe – all fueling the increase in extreme wildfires.

It’s not just nature at play here. Human actions, like how we manage ecosystems, can also be fueling this fire frenzy. Overzealous firefighting can backfire, making forests more prone to combustion and firefighting efforts more challenging.

So, as we witness the scorching impact of these extreme wildfires, it’s time to take a step back, reassess our approach to land management, and join forces to tackle this burning issue before it spirals out of control. Stay safe, stay informed, and let’s work together to cool down this fiery crisis.

In recent years, we have heard news about wildfire disasters around the world from time to time. They have become synonymous with the climate crisis and the threat of major natural disasters.

But are wildfires really becoming more extreme? Skeptics of climate change claims often challenge the claims. They believe that the global fire area is decreasing and that excessive attention to wildfires is actually a media bias.

Recently, a study of satellite data has mapped the rapid growth of the most energetic wildfires on Earth over the past 21 years. The results confirm that in the past 21 years, the frequency of extreme fires has doubled around the world, and extreme fires have increased exponentially in vast areas such as North America. The study provides the first conclusive evidence that extreme wildfires are indeed getting more severe. And climate change is almost certainly a factor. The research was recently published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

  Extreme fires on the rise

The truth is, from an ecosystem perspective, not all wildfires are created equal. Most wildfires are small, and some are actually harmless and may even provide ecosystem benefits.

But some fires release huge amounts of energy. These extremely energetic fires can have a huge impact on the Earth system, releasing as much smoke into the atmosphere as a volcanic eruption. They also release large amounts of carbon, wreaking havoc on ecosystems and societies, sometimes destroying entire towns.

In previous studies, researchers have found an increase in wildfires in western U.S. forests, but not enough to identify a clear global trend. For example, fires in African grasslands and savannas continue to decrease, and the area burned each year is also declining.

In the new study, researchers analyzed large amounts of wildfire observation data from NASA satellites. These satellites record fires around the world and the energy they release, known as fire radiation power. They used nearly 21 years of data sets to identify those fires with extreme energy levels, or those with the highest 0.01% of fire radiation power.

The findings conclusively show that extreme fire events have been on a significant rise over the past 21 years. From 2003 to 2023, the frequency of extreme fire events increased 2.2 times, and the average intensity of the 20 worst fires each year increased 2.3 times.

In the past seven years, six of the 21 years have been the most extreme. This increase coincides with global warming. For example, 2023 had record-breaking temperatures, and it was also the worst year for fires.

The fastest growing of these are the temperate coniferous forests of the Northern Hemisphere and the carbon-rich boreal forests. Fires there would release large amounts of smoke and carbon, potentially further exacerbating climate warming. Last year, massive fires in Canada engulfed tens of millions of people in the eastern United States in smoke and ash. The fires have reduced air quality to dangerous levels, and air quality is a bigger killer than the fires themselves.

While the frequency of extreme fires increased during both day and night, the increase was fastest at night. The same pattern was seen in Queensland’s early-season fires last year. The increase in fires at night is more telling, as rising humidity at night typically slows fires.

Additionally, in addition to North America, extreme fires occur in several other biomes around the world, such as Australia and the Mediterranean. Australia, a land of boom and bust, has had its share of extreme years in recent times, including the devastating bushfires of 2019-20 known as the “Black Summer.” The fires coincided with periods of record-breaking heat and drought. The area burned in northern Australia in 2023 even exceeded the scope of the “Black Summer”. These recent fires in Australia’s arid regions follow a year of heavy rainfall and widespread grass growth. When grass dries out, it turns into a lot of fuel, which can cause fires.

  Why?

Although the study does not directly link fire trends and climate change, researchers believe that the increase in extreme fire events around the world must be an important signal of climate change. Climate change is making the air over land drier, which in turn will make those flammable fuels drier and burn more completely. Climate change is also making summers longer and fire weather getting worse.

In addition, the researchers also mentioned that the current way people manage ecosystems may also be an important reason for the increase in extreme fires. Over the years, people have put out almost all fires, which allows some of the fuel to accumulate in the ecosystem. Paradoxically, trying to put out all fires can make forests more flammable in the worst conditions, making it harder to put out fires, and leading to catastrophic fires.

Fire is actually an important part of nature. For example, Australia’s Aboriginal people have always had wisdom in managing wildfires. How to adjust fire response strategies and adapt to “fire” ecosystems may help us coexist sustainably with fire in a climate with rising temperatures.

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