June 12, 2012--Study: Climate change leaves American West especially vulnerable to wildfires (Colorado Independent)

Rising temperatures are projected to trigger more wildfires in most of North America and Europe, according to a new study, but climate change may have the opposite effect around the equator. The American West, where massive conflagrations are currently chewing up parts of Colorado and New Mexico, will be especially vulnerable to wildfires over the next three decades, according to scientists from the University of California-Berkeley and Texas Tech University. Their study, published today in the peer-reviewed Ecosphere journal, utilized 16 separate climate change models and satellite-based databases to generate what researchers called one of the most comprehensive projections to date of how climate change might influence global fire patterns. “In the long run, we found what most fear – increasing fire activity across large areas of the planet,” lead author Max Moritz of UC Berkeley said in a statement. “But the speed and extent to which some of these changes may happen is surprising. These abrupt changes in fire patterns not only affects people’s livelihoods, but also they add stress to native plants and animals that are already struggling to adapt to habitat loss.” Previous studies have also predicted an uptick in wildfires, severe storms, floods and droughts. 

Experts say this summer has the potential to be one of the worst fire seasons in the history of Colorado, where a snow-starved winter, hot temperatures and beetle-killed forests have left the state especially susceptible. The state snowpack is only 2 percent of normal, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Basin Outlook Report released today.

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