16 Years Of Satellite Data Show Carbon Emissions From Increased Fire Activity

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There is always a fire burning somewhere on Earth and satellite data is capturing the trend in increased fire activity.This NASA visualization shows carbon emissions from fires from January 1, 2003 through December 31, 2018.

While fires are a natural part of the ecosystem, most fires are set by people, either on purpose in order to clear land, or accidentally. Climate change is shaping the size and intensity of these fires and the trend is consistent with scientists’ predictions of a warming climate. Temperatures have increased across the globe. The planet has warmed by 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, and five of the warmest years on record occurred in the last five years. This has caused many areas to become warmer and dryer, so the potential for fires has increased along with the temperature. Higher nighttime temperatures may also contribute to conditions that cause fires to persist over multiple days.

In the last few decades, there’s been an increase in burning and fire activity has gotten worse in northern latitude forests. In 2018, California saw its worst wildfire season on record, and that was immediately after the devastating fire season of 2017. In 2019, wildfires have already burned 2.5 million acres in Alaska. The high temperatures that are driving the extreme fire season in Alaska this year have also led to massive fires in Siberia.

While they burn, the fires release carbon that's been stored in the trees or in the soil. Then even more carbon gets released as the dead trees decompose and these dead trees no longer pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. This carbon is an important greenhouse gas, which drives global warming.

 

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There is always a fire burning somewhere on Earth and satellite data is capturing the trend in increased fire activity.This NASA visualization shows carbon emissions from fires from January 1, 2003 through December 31, 2018.

While fires are a natural part of the ecosystem, most fires are set by people, either on purpose in order to clear land, or accidentally. Climate change is shaping the size and intensity of these fires and the trend is consistent with scientists’ predictions of a warming climate. Temperatures have increased across the globe. The planet has warmed by 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, and five of the warmest years on record occurred in the last five years. This has caused many areas to become warmer and dryer, so the potential for fires has increased along with the temperature. Higher nighttime temperatures may also contribute to conditions that cause fires to persist over multiple days.

In the last few decades, there’s been an increase in burning and fire activity has gotten worse in northern latitude forests. In 2018, California saw its worst wildfire season on record, and that was immediately after the devastating fire season of 2017. In 2019, wildfires have already burned 2.5 million acres in Alaska. The high temperatures that are driving the extreme fire season in Alaska this year have also led to massive fires in Siberia.

While they burn, the fires release carbon that's been stored in the trees or in the soil. Then even more carbon gets released as the dead trees decompose and these dead trees no longer pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. This carbon is an important greenhouse gas, which drives global warming.

 

Laura Faye Tenenbaum is a public speaker, physical science professor, blogger, award winning and globally recognized innovator in the field of science and climate commun...