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Extreme fires: how global warming has caused them to double in 20 years

© Mike Newbry/Unsplash

The flames that burn our forests have become a real scourge, growing over the last two decades. A recent analysis, published on June 24 in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, based on more than twenty years of satellite observations, highlights an alarming reality: the frequency of fires extremes doubled between 2003 and 2023. This dizzying increase, closely linked to the warming of our planet, necessarily raises serious concerns about its repercussions on our environment and our health.

The consequences of this phenomenon, extremely devastating, call upon us to urgently act in the face of this growing threat which literally consumes our natural spaces and endangers our ecological balance.

The apocalyptic increase in fires

The data from this study paints a worrying picture, to say the least, of the evolution of fires forests. By carefully analyzing nearly 2,900 major disasters over more than two decades, researchers used satellite observations to quantify their radiative power.

This refers to the amount of energy it emits in the form of electromagnetic radiation, primarily infrared light. It is measured in watts per square meter (W/m²). The higher it is, the more intense the fire and gives off heat. The results are clear: between 2003 and 2023, these devastating blazes more than doubled, showing a dizzying increase of 2.2 times.

Calum Cunningham, ecologist from the University of Tasmania and lead author of this study, does not hide his amazement at this alarming escalation. “I was expecting an increase, but this rate of increase alarmed me&nbsp ;» he explains. Even more worrying, the cumulative intensity of the most violent fires has grown exponentially, accelerating dramatically since 2017.

One might believe that this increase mainly concerns forests located in dry areas, but this is not the case< /strong>. The ecosystems hardest hit by this upsurge are undoubtedly the temperate coniferous forests and the vast boreal expanses.

For example, in the American West, fires ravaging conifers have increased elevenfold; an increase of 1,000%! As for the boreal forests, stretching from Alaska to northern Canada to the borders of Russia, they have seen extreme fires increase sevenfold (600% of ;increase). These biotopes, naturally subject to fires, are today weakened by increasingly arid and torrid climatic conditions, exacerbated by global warming.

Extreme fires: how global warming has caused them to double in 20 years

Graph illustrating the increase in energy intensity of the 20 most extreme wildfires in the world over the last two decades © Nature

The feedback effect of global warming

Global warming emerges as the catalyst main cause of the increase in devastating fires. By drying and warming the atmosphere, it creates a breeding ground conducive to the spread of forest fires. Cunninghame told AFP: “The effects of climate change are no longer in the future and we are seeing the effects today. signs of an atmosphere that is drying and warming ”. These conditions not only exacerbate the outbreak of fires, but also their virulence and longevity.

When a forest is engulfed by fire , the phenomenon emits titanic quantities of carbon dioxide, thus fueling a vicious circle. Vegetation, usually a carbon sink, becomes a source of emissions when it is burned. This is the feedback effect: global warming fuels fires, which in turn intensify the phenomenon.

Catastrophic consequences

Beyond the ecological disaster, these megafires have alarming health repercussions. The air pollution they generate is a major factor in premature mortality. In 2015, fires in Indonesia caused an excess mortality of 100,000 people. Plumes of smoke, loaded with fine particles and toxic chemicals, can contaminate the air hundreds of kilometers around, causing serious respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

These devastating fires also disrupt local ecosystems and economies. Biodiversity is collapsing, soils are degrading, and natural habitats are disappearing. The loss of forest cover reduces the capacity to absorb CO2, intensifying global warming. Local communities see their resources, homes and infrastructure destroyed, suffering considerable economic damage.

The loss of property and means of subsistence can force populations to flee their regions of origin, thus generating migratory flows and integration problems in areas of origin. #8217;welcome. Marginalized and vulnerable populations, such as women, children and the elderly, are often most affected by the consequences of megafires, due to their limited access to resources and support services.

In 2019 and 2020, the fires in Australia burned more than 20 million hectares of forests, taking with them the lives of 33 people. In 2021, the megafires that ravaged British Columbia (Canada) caused damage estimated at more than 10 billion Canadian dollars, destroyed thousands of homes and led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.

Our civilization is literally suffocating under the effect of these fires, and they are only getting worse. Geographical areas, previously spared, are now threatened by the increase in the frequency and intensity of this phenomenon. Let it be said: the situation is more than alarming and it would require urgent collective action. To remain in denial in the face of these warning signals is to run into a more than catastrophic situation. Because yes, this one can still get worse.

  • A study published in June reported that forest fires have doubled in 20 years.
  • The most important aggravating factor is global warming climatic.
  • The consequences of these fires are multiple and very serious.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116