AUG 20, 2022 10:00 AM PDT

Forest Forest Fires Have Gotten Worse Over the Last 20 Years

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

Hot-burning, more frequent forest fires continue to make headlines on a regular basis. In California, for example, frequent forest fires, oftentimes record-setting in size, trigger alarm bells across the globe. The increased size and frequency of forest fires, often due, at least in part, to climate change, poses significant threats and raises new questions about whether this is a new norm.

A new analysis conducted by Global Forest Watch suggests, and in many ways confirms, that these larger, more frequent forest fires are indeed part of an alarming trend of forest fires that have caused more and more damage over the last 20 years. In fact, researchers were shocked by how dramatically things have changed in the past two decades regarding forest fires. 

Global Forest Watch reviewed two decades of data regarding tree loss to identify stand-replacing fires (first that burn most overstory coverages).

In all, the analysis suggests that, compared to 2001, forest fires are destroying about 7 million more acres of forest, with the majority of this damage occurring in boreal regions (or areas around or near the arctic). About three quarters of all tree cover lost to a first, in fact. What’s troublesome about this trend is that boreal forests tend to hold onto a lot of carbon, making them vital resources in the fight against climate change. Boreal forests, specifically, hold onto about 11% of the world's carbon. 

Despite the fact that fires occur naturally in these regions, Global Forest Watch noted a consistent increase in fire severity, affecting more areas in these regions on a regular basis.  

To explain this unfortunate rise in forest fire incident rate, the hand inevitably points to climate change. While other human activities, such as population growth, play a role, no factor plays quite as big a role as climate changes. Climate change has led to drier regions of the world, driven by droughts and excess heat that creates a tinderbox ripe capable of creating powerful, destructive fires. The subsequent burning and releasing of carbon into the atmosphere only exacerbates the problem.

Sources: Mongabay; Global Forest Watch; Nature United

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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