Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Warming Climate Likely to Dramatically Increase Yellowstone Fires by Mid-Century

27.07.2011
Climate is changing fire patterns in the west in a way that could markedly change the face of Yellowstone National Park, according to new research.

A study published online the week of July 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that climate change could increase the frequency of large fires in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to a point that sparks dramatic shifts in the forest vegetation, from conifer-dominated mature forests to younger stands and more open vegetation.

“Large, severe fires are normal for this ecosystem. It has burned this way about every few hundred years for thousands of years,” explains study author Monica Turner, the Eugene P. Odum Professor of Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a landscape ecologist who has worked in the Greater Yellowstone area for more than 20 years. “But if the current relationship between climate and large fires holds true, a warming climate will drive more frequent large fires in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the future.”

Wildfires in this ecosystem are climate-driven and are primed by hotter, drier conditions, such as those predicted by numerous global climate models.

Already fire ecologists have noticed increased fire frequency in the west, associated with temperature increases of less than two degrees Fahrenheit and early spring snowmelt in the mountains.

For the new study, the researchers analyzed large wildfires (greater than 500 acres) and climate data in the northern Rocky Mountains from 1972 to 1999, then used these observed relationships with global climate models to project how expected climate change will impact fires during the 21st century.

“What surprised us about our results was the speed and scale of the projected changes in fire in Greater Yellowstone,” says lead author Anthony Westerling, a professor of environmental engineering and geography at the University of California, Merced. “We expected fire to increase with increased temperatures, but we did not expect it to increase so much or so quickly. We were also surprised by how consistent the changes were across different climate projections.”

They found that fires larger than 500 acres will likely be an annual occurrence by 2050, with fire rotation – the time span over which the entire landscape burns – reduced from a historic range of 100 to 300 years to less than 30 years. Interestingly, the predicted new fire regime closely resembles patterns typical of other landscapes, such as the ponderosa pine forests of the southwest.

“More frequent fires will not be catastrophic to the area – Yellowstone will not be destroyed – but they will undoubtedly lead to major shifts in the vegetation,” says Turner. “It is critical to keep monitoring these forests and study how they respond to future fires.”

For example, the iconic lodgepole pines that dominate much of the current landscape may not have time to recover between big fires, especially if hot, dry summers make it difficult for tree seedlings to germinate and grow following future fires. Some forests could shift toward fast-growing aspen and Douglas fir, or even shrubs and grassland. Such changes would also affect the region’s wildlife, hydrology, carbon storage, and aesthetics.

Westerling, an expert on climate-fire interactions, cautions that the models used in the study will not work once the increase in fires creates a fundamental change in the ecosystem. As the landscape changes, the relationships between climate and fire will change as well.

“The biggest challenge for us is to understand what can happen when the ecosystem is transformed,” he says. “Our projections also depend on the climate models we are using – for example, if projections for winter snow pack or summer rainfall were to increase significantly, that would change our results.”

With more frequent fires, available fuels will also dwindle and eventually become important than climate in limiting fires. At that point, existing models will break down, leaving future outcomes even more unpredictable, Turner says – large fires could even become less severe in the future, making it an important topic for continued study.

“Our research after the immense 1988 fires revealed surprises and tremendous resilience in Yellowstone’s ecosystems, and Yellowstone is likely to surprise us again in the future,” Turner says. “It is an incredibly valuable natural laboratory for studying how natural ecosystems adapt to changing environmental conditions.”

The other study co-authors are Erica Smithwick at the Pennsylvania State University, Bill Romme at Colorado State University, and Mike Ryan of the U.S. Forest Service. The work was funded by the Joint Fire Science Program, U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Jill Sakai, (608) 262-9772, jasakai@wisc.edu

Monica Turner, (608) 262-2592, turnermg@wisc.edu; Anthony Westerling via James Leonard, (209) 228-4406, jleonard3@ucmerced.edu

Jill Sakai | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.wisc.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht From volcano's slope, NASA instrument looks sky high and to the future
27.04.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Penn researchers quantify the changes that lightning inspires in rock
27.04.2017 | University of Pennsylvania

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Bare bones: Making bones transparent

27.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions

27.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

From volcano's slope, NASA instrument looks sky high and to the future

27.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>