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Wildfires are becoming a great cause of concern today worldwide. In recent times, we are witnessing a significant increase in the intensity of wildfires in the US and other countries. They are seen to frequently occur in arid regions with a Mediterranean climate, such as Portugal or Spain. The devastating effects of wildfires are predominant in regions where people stay closer to forest areas. Scientists investigating the cause of such fires are observing a close relation to wildfires and climate change. Let us study in detail how wildfires and climate change are related.
Studies of wildfires in recent times point out that the intensity of wildfires is much greater than before in regions like Indonesia, Canada, Western Europe, and Northwest America. When compared to wildfires in the 1970s, it is seen that massive wildfires are not only more frequent, but the destruction they cause is many times more than earlier. As per NASA’s findings, this increase in the severity of wildfires coincides with the rise in average global temperatures around the same period.
With the increase in average global temperatures, there has been a corresponding rise in summer and spring temperatures. Many regions are also witnessing an early onset of spring. Consequently, there is an increased melting of snow, which leads to the early drying of the soil. This has increased the presence of insects like bark beetles that love the warmer climate in these forests. These insects prey on the stressed trees in forests in regions like Canada, making these forests vulnerable to wildfires. Millions of trees have become victims of such insects in California and Texas in recent years.
Massive numbers of mountain pine beetles are seen at places where the climates are warmer now and where the cold climate earlier used to deter such insects. These pests are causing large-scale destruction of trees in the forests in these regions. Another phenomenon observed on the US’s west coast has been the incidence of whiplash wet winters caused by river storms that begin in the Eastern Pacific. The dry summers that follow these winters cause the spring vegetation to dry out and leave them vulnerable to wildfires during the fall.
Apart from the direct threat to people’s lives, wildfire smoke impacts human health significantly. Its effects are felt not only nearby but also several miles away. WIldifres emit toxic pollutants that cause breathing disorders in healthy individuals, children, elderly people, and people with underlying health issues like asthma or heart disease. They are also known to cause immunological disorders and reproductive issues to the humans residing in nearby areas. Since they emit carbon dioxide in great amounts, they also impact climate locally and globally. They also increase the risk for dangerous mudslides that can cause large-scale destruction.
As per studies conducted by scientists, the areas destroyed by fire may multiply many times in the coming years. With climates getting warmer, wildfires may occur more frequently. It is also not easy to forecast where such fires may happen in the future. Though studies have been conducted on the effect of global warming on bark beetles, we have less information on the impact on other insect species.
With the frequent occurrence of destructive wildfires in forests due to climate changes, soils are getting sterilized. Eventually, it will make it difficult for forests to restore their natural states again. Wildfires can negatively affect drinking water sources and cause acute health risks to people who utilize the water for their daily needs. These fires can cause a lot of social and financial disruption in people’s lives.
Experts say that the only way out would be to prevent wildfires by reducing the amount of dead and dying wood in the forests. However, the task is very challenging as in some regions, the quantity of fallen timber is so great that it is almost impossible to prevent such fires. Priority is being given to efforts to thin the forests in regions, which are densely populated and are close to the forested areas.
One of the first steps people need to take is acknowledging that wildfires and climate change are interconnected. Then we can join hands to work out solutions to prevent such wildfires and control their impact on our environment.
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