Climate Change Helped Burn Forests More, Study Says

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October 11, 2016

Forest fire damage has tripled in the past three decades and can be attributed to man-made climate change, according to a new study.

National Integagency Fire Center data show that the total acres of land burned in the Western United States was 2.9 million in 1985 and 10.1 million in 2015. A corresponding increase in average temperatures was found to be 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970.

The researchers drew a straight line from man-made climate change to the increased temperatures and there to a forest fire’s propensity to burn hotter with higher temperatures, which creates more moisture in the air and less in the forests themselves. The study also listed non-human factors, including natural climate shifts, as causes. The study found that the increase in fires burned 16,000 square miles of land that would not have been burned if temperatures were lower.

The research was the product of a collaboration between teams at Columbia University and the University of Idaho. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the study.

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