One more time: Beetle-killed forests are NOT more likely to burn, according to new CU-Boulder study

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Beetle-killed lodgepole pines in Colorado. bberwyn photo.

New CU-Boulder study has implications for forest managers and Red Zone communities

Staff Report

*More Summit Voice stories on beetle-kill and forests here.

FRISCO — Communities and resource managers looking to address the threat of wildfires should focus less on tree-killing beetles and more on the underlying forces driving the trend toward larger fires.

Warmer temperatures and increased drought are the key factors, said Colorado-based researchers who took a close look at patterns of beetle-kill and wildfires in recent years.

Their study found that western forests killed by mountain pine beetles are no more at risk to burn than healthy forests. Those findings  fly in the face of both public perception and policy, the scientists acknowledged.

“What we are seeing in this study is that at broad scales, fire does not necessarily follow mountain pine beetles,” said CU-Boulder Research Scientist Tania Schoennagel, of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “It’s well known, however, that fire does follow drought.” Continue reading

Wildfire season starts slow for 2d year in a row

Continued Western drought, warmth set stage for significant wildfires later this summer

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After a dry and warm winter, southern Alaska will have a better than average chance of signficant wildfire activity this spring. Map via NIFC.

By Bob Berwyn

Western wildfires have always been shape-shifting beasts, roaring to life wherever there is hot and dry weather, wind and fuel. But last year’s relatively cool and wet summer brought relief to parts of the region — including Colorado — that had been especially hard the previous few years.

The 2015 wildfire season is starting similarly slow to last year, according to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center showing that, since January 1, there have been about 6,200 fires that burned across a 100,000 acre footprint, just 30 percent of the average from the past 10 years. Continue reading

How long will California’s drought continue?

Snowpack at record low levels

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A NASA Earth Observatory photo shows dry conditions in California in Jan. 2014.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The snowpack in some key California watersheds is at or near all-time record low, the state’s water managers reported this week after conducting their monthly surveys.

At one site, west of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the California Department of Water Resources reported less than 1 inch of water content in the snowpack, just 5 percent of the March 3 historical average for that site. Snowpack measurements are online here. Continue reading

Can global warming cause wars?

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A NASA Earth Observatory map shows the rainfall deficit during the 2006-2010 drought across the fertile crescent of Iraq and Syria.

Population growth, drought and poor governance combined to spur 2011 Syria uprising

Staff Report

FRISCO — A sustained drought in the Middle East, driven by global warming, may have been a key trigger for the brutal war in Syria, according to researchers. The drought, lasting from 2006 to 2010, destroyed agriculture in northern Syria, forcing farmers into cities, where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011.

“We’re not saying the drought caused the war,” said Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who coauthored a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.” Continue reading

UN says big investments needed to avert water wars

Will the world get it together on climate change?

Will the world get it together on water?

Upfront spending would avoid the huge costs of escalating conflicts

Staff Report

FRISCO — Big investments in water infrastructure are needed around the world to avert future conflicts over the world’s most essential resource. Looming shortages of water could trigger conflicts and mass migrations, contributing to social and political instability, the report warns.

“The consequence of unmet water goals will be widespread insecurity creating more international tension and conflict,” said lead author Bob Sandford. “The positive message is that if we can keep moving now on water-related sustainable development goals we can still have the future we want,” he said. Continue reading

Climate study projects brutal Western droughts

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Shrunken reservoirs may become the norm across the West during the second half of the century. bberwyn photo.

All models point to significant drying and warming

Staff Report

FRISCO — By the second half of this century, the relentless increase in global greenhouse gases could push the U.S. Southwest and Great Plains toward persistent drought conditions worse than anything seen in ancient or modern times.

Drought conditions will likely be more severe than during several decades-long megadroughts that are well-documented by paleoclimate records, according to climate scientists with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Continue reading

Climate: New ice core data help show long-term rainfall record for parts of Australia

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A recent weather satellite image of Australia, via NASA.

‘The Millennium Drought was far from an exceptional event for eastern Australia during the past thousand years …’

FRISCO — Even without the added factor of global warming, eastern Australia is susceptible to climate extremes, including long-lasting droughts that could put a huge strain on water storage and delivery systems.

Researchers say a 1,000-year ice core record from Antarctica shows the recent “Millennium Drought” actually wasn’t all that unusual in the context of Australia’s long-term climate history. Continue reading

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