Watch how climate change has an impact on wildfires all over the world

Watch how climate change has an impact on wildfires all over the world

  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s new video shows how wildfires have been burning globally over the past 15 years.
  • Warmer climate has increased the instances of wildfires, which in turn wipes out vegetation making climate change worse.
  • Night time has also become warmer making wildfires last longer rather than simmer down in the absence of the Sun.
The last five years have been the hottest years for the planet. Since the 1980’s, the ‘wildfire season has been getting longer. In some areas, it is a risk that persists throughout the year.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has published a new video tracking carbon emissions from fires between 2003 and 2018.

"Where warming and drying climate has increased the risk of fires, we’ve seen an increase in burning," said Doug Morton, the chief of the Biospheric Sciences Lab at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

"Our ability to track fires in a concerted way over the last 20 years with satellite data has captured large-scale trends, such as increased fire activity, consistent with a warming climate in places like the western US, Canada and other parts of Northern Hemisphere forests where fuels are abundant," Morton added.


Wildfires — cause and consequence rolled into one

Wildfires are both a cause and a consequence of global climate change.

On the one hand, hot and dry conditions of the atmosphere increase the likelihood of a wildfire breaking out. The hotter it gets, the higher the potential to burn.

On the other hand, wildfires — like the ones in California, the Arctic, and the Amazon rainforest this year — deplete the concentration of greenery and vegetation that produce oxygen, making an existing problem, even worse.

It doesn’t take much to start a fire

The carbon emissions shared by NASA don’t account for natural occurrences of wildfires and those caused by manmade activities. But, if the atmosphere is dry enough, it doesn’t take much to set a fire.

Lightning strikes are the main natural cause of fires. Researchers found that if the number of lightning strikes is higher than average in a particular area, its creates more thunderstorms. More thunderstorms ultimately contribute to more burned area, that year.

Hotter and drier conditions also increase the risk posed by 'accidental' fires.

"When we have a period of extreme weather, high temperatures, low humidity, then it’s more likely that typical outdoor activity might lead to an accidental fire that quickly gets out of control and becomes a large wildfire," said Jim Randerson, an Earth system scientist at the University of California.

Ideally, cooler nightime temperatures should help fires simmer down. But warmer night time temperatures thanks to climate change, are allowing fires to burn on for days instead of extinguishing fires in the absence of the Sun.

"As climate warms, we have an increasing frequency of extreme events. It’s critical to monitor and understand extreme fires using satellite data so that we have the tools to successfully manage them in a warmer world," explaned Randerson.