Over the past 30 years wildfires have consistently become larger and more frequent in the Western U.S.—increasing by a rate of seven fires each year, a problem that shows no sign of stopping any time soon, according to research conducted by the University of Utah.
Using satellite images, the researchers found the total breadth of these fires has grown by a rate of nearly 90,000 acres per year—roughly equivalent to the size of Nevada.
This increasing problem is most likely tied to rising temperatures and extreme drought related to climate change, according to the report, which will be published in Geophysical Research Letters by the American Geophysical Union.
“These trends suggest that large-scale climate changes, rather than local factors, could be driving increases in fire activity,” the scientists write. “The study stops short of linking the rise in number and size of fires directly to human-caused climate change. However, it says the observed changes in fire activity are in line with long-term, global fire patterns that climate models have projected will occur as temperatures increase and droughts become more severe in the coming decades due to global warming.”
“Most of these trends show strong correlations with drought-related conditions which, to a large degree, agree with what we expect from climate change projections,” said Max Moritz, a co-author of the study and a fire specialist at the University of California-Berkeley Cooperative Extension.
“But we are seeing a trend across the region. We are seeing it in deserts and grassland. The fact that we are seeing it in so many different ecosystems tells us something bigger is going on here,” said the report’s lead author Philip Dennison.
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