The research team used tree rings dating to 1506 to track past wildfire activity in the forests of Patagonia tied to the Southern Annular Mode, or SAM, a climate oscillation that creates low atmospheric pressure in the Antarctic that is tied to warmer and drier conditions in southern South America.
This 2010 photo shows the aftermath of a wildfire outside the town of Futaleufu in southern Chile. A new study by CU-Boulder researchers indicates that wildfires may intensify in southern South America in the coming decades. Credit: Andres Holz
The tree rings showed that when SAM was in its positive phase, there were widespread fires in both dry woodlands and rainforests in Patagonia, a region that straddles Argentina and Chile, said CU-Boulder Research Associate Andres Holz, lead study author.
"Our study shows for about the past 250 years, the Southern Annular Mode has been the main driver in creating droughts and fires in two very different ecosystems in southern South America," said Holz. "Climate models suggest an increase in SAM beginning in the 1960s due to greenhouse gas increases and Antarctic ozone depletion probably will cause this region to be drought-prone and fire-prone for at least the next 100 years."
A paper on the subject by Holz and CU-Boulder geography Professor Thomas Veblen was published in Geophysical Research Letters.
Holz and Veblen compared past wildfire records for two ecologically distinct regions in Patagonia -- the relatively dry region of southern Patagonia in Argentina and the temperate rainforest of Patagonia in northern Chile. While the tree ring historical record showed increased fires in both regions correlated with a positive SAM, the trend has been less pronounced in northern Patagonia in the past 50 years, likely because of fire-suppression efforts there, Holz said.
But the decades of fire suppression have caused the northern Patagonian woodlands to become denser and more prone towildfire during hot and dry years, Holz said.
"Even in areas of northern Patagonia where fire suppression previously had been effective, record surface areas of woodlands and forests have burned in recent years of extreme drought," said Veblen. "And since this is in an area of rapid residential growth into wildland-urban interface areas, this climate-driven trend towards increasing fire risk is becoming a major problem for land managers and homeowners."
The two CU-Boulder researchers studied reconstructions of tree rings going back more than 500 years from 432 trees at 42 sample sites in northern Argentina and southern Chile -- the largest available data set of annual, readable tree ring records in the Southern Hemisphere. The tree rings, which indicate climate cycles and reveal the scars of old fires, showed that wildfires generally increased in both regions when SAM was in its strong, positive phase.
Although the Antarctic ozone hole stopped growing in about 2000 as a result of a ban on ozone-depleting gases and now appears to be slowly repairing itself, a 2011 paper by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder indicates ozone recovery and greenhouse gas influences essentially will cancel each other out, preventing SAM from returning to its pre-1960s levels.
"Before the Industrial Revolution, SAM intensified naturally at times to create drought situations in Patagonia," Holz said. "But in the last 80 years or so, the natural variation has been overwhelmed by a bias toward a positive SAM phase because of ozone-depleting chemicals and greenhouse gases we have put in the atmosphere."
The research effort was supported by the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, the CU Beverly Sears Small Grants Program and the Council on Research and CreativeResearch of the CU Graduate School.
"As warming and drying trends continue, it is likely that wildfire activity will increase even in woodland areas where fire suppression has previously been effective," Holz and Veblen wrote in Geophysical Research Letters.Contact:
Andres Holz | EurekAlert!
World's first solar fuels reactor for night passes test
21.02.2018 | SolarPACES
Geophysicists and atmospheric scientists partner to track typhoons' seismic footprints
16.02.2018 | Princeton University
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.
But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.
The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...
Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters
Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
21.02.2018 | Life Sciences
21.02.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
21.02.2018 | Trade Fair News