2.4 Climate change effects: Wildfires

Author: Frederique de Raucourt

Date Submitted: February 4, 2022

ABSTRACT: Wildfires cause devastation; they destroy properties, natural resources, and threaten both humans and animal lives. Although wildfires are a natural and seasonal occurrence and have their evolutionary advantages; however, the disadvantages are growing and taking a toll on our earth. Wildfires are a significant source of atmospheric pollution, one of which includes carbon. In this paper, I will discuss the many factors both related and unrelated to climate change that influence wildfires, and how they are both feeding off of each other which has created a constant loop in the system.

(Retrieved from Guardian News, Science behind wildfires, 2021)

MAIN:

Both natural and human-spread factors play a role in igniting wildfires. Examples vary from lightning strikes, to barbeques, to dropped cigarettes, to spontaneous combustions, to campfires, and even to farmers who use fire to clear land. Once ignited, the spread is rapid.  Wildfires often spread when all three characteristics of a fire triangle are present in an area: Oxygen, Heat and Fuel. Furthermore, some things to take into consideration are the moisture levels in the air and or ground, how long it has been since the last rainfall, what kind of trees there are, and how dense is the biodiversity of the area. The density of biodiversity is an important consideration because, evidently, wildfires spread more easily when there isn’t much diversity in the land, meaning that there are only a few to one type of tree and not much undergrowth; this is called “Tinder box” conditions.

How does this relate to carbon you ask? To answer this lets take a closer look into what carbon is and how it can react with and affect earth. There is both natural and human CO2. Natural CO2 is what life on earth relies on. It is when natural and constant carbon, cycles through our atmosphere, ocean and land. Living things like humans, animals and plants release CO2 when they respire (which means breathing in oxygen and exhaling CO2.) Our ecosystem naturally maintains a balance by absorbing and then removing the CO2 via plants and the ocean, this is called biogenic carbon emissions.  Human activities like extracting, refining, transporting and burning fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases, including carbon. This CO2 generated by humans relies on our ecosystem to be removed, however, with mass amounts happening at the same time, the imbalance is overwhelming our ecosystem, causing great damage and putting the natural cycle out of balance. In short, a Natural amount of CO2 plays a crucial part in maintaining our ecosystem and only when there is an excess amount of CO2 that it causes damage to the environment which is usually generated by man-made activities. 

This is contributing to the wildfire feedback loop: Rising temperatures create drier conditions, drier conditions result in wildfires, wildfires produce carbon emissions, more carbon in the atmosphere results in higher temperatures … and thus pushing the natural carbon cycle further out of balance and creating a never-ending loop. As we know forests both emit and absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. Depending on the area of natural disturbances such as wildfires, insect outbreaks and wind storms,  forests will either be a source or a sink of carbon. A source adds carbon to the atmosphere, while a sink absorbs it. Data collected by the Government of Canada in 2018 suggest that, overall, the forests were a source of CO2 due to 1.4 million hectares (ha) of area burned. 

What can we do? The increase of human-made carbon is disrupting our exosystem and has caused more wildfires. By cutting down our carbon emissions, this will halt the earth’s warming, which in turn will cause less wildfires. Let’s stop the feedback loop!

RESOURCES:

Canada, N. R. (2021, August 9). Government of Canada. Natural Resources Canada. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/our-natural-resources/forests/state-canadas-forests-report/disturbance-canadas-forests/16502

Harris, N., Munroe, T., & Levin, K. (2020, September 16). 6 graphics explain the climate feedback loop fueling US fires. World Resources Institute. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://www.wri.org/insights/6-graphics-explain-climate-feedback-loop-fueling-us-fires

The Economist Newspaper. (n.d.). Wildfires will be more common in a warming world. The Economist. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2020/09/10/wildfires-will-be-more-common-in-a-warming-world?gclid=Cj0KCQiAubmPBhCyARIsAJWNpiNGQC7yfeOaMkBzlTKG6R16jnhMBWAhKa8XgPKFKwBaPxT4H2LB3AYaAvsOEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

Guardian News. (2021). The climate science behind wildfires: why are they getting worse? YouTube. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oJ0j1OZSTU.

NASA. (n.d.). Fire. NASA. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/global-maps/MOD14A1_M_FIRE

Chapter 3 — Global Warming of 1.5 ºc – IPCC. (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/chapter-3/

Nugent, C. (2021, August 5). The world has been on fire for the past month. here’s what it looks like. Time. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from https://time.com/6087748/wildfires-around-the-world-photos/

BIOGRAPHY

Frederique de Raucourt traveled abroad her first two years out of high school, settling and studying Art History in Paris, France before moving to Toronto to study at Ryerson University. She will be graduating with a Bachelor of Interior Design in the Spring of 2023.

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