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Raging wildfires: Climate changes to blame for record season?

16 07 11 - 06:07 Raging wildfires: Climate changes to blame for record season?


By Pete Spotts


The images are stark: soot-grimed firefighters steering bulldozers or wielding shovels to clear underbrush; curtains of orange flame tracing the contours of summits; aircraft dumping chemicals to slow a fire's progress.

Between Jan. 1 and early July of 2011, slightly more than 38,000 wildfires charred the landscape in the United States at a record pace. So far this year, wildfires have consumed just under 4.9 million acres of forest and grassland, a cumulative expanse the size of New Jersey.

That's 1 million more acres than fires consumed during the same period in 2006, which saw a record 9.9 million acres burned for the entire year.

Beyond the numbers, this year's fires may provide the first large-scale tests of the effectiveness of projects undertaken over the past decade to help forests survive wildfires, several specialists say.

The West's forests are adapted to deal with certain types of wildfires, researchers note. But since the mid-1980s, they add, some of these forests have experienced an increasing number of fires to which they are not well adapted.

Many researchers trace this shift in part to climate change. Thus, restoration efforts focus not only on how to reestablish fire regimes that these forests can best endure, but also on how to do this in the face of an already-changing climate.

The alternative: large, intense fires likely to trigger long-term shifts in the makeup of vegetation, with as-yet-unknown effects on ecosystems and watersheds.

"This is the year we will be able to go in and complete the experiment," says Melissa Savage, professor emeritus of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a trustee of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, west of Santa Fe, N.M. "So much acreage burned, and it burned over so many restoration treatments, that we will get the answer this year" regarding which treatments worked, which didn't, and why, she says.

In 2000, for instance, the US began thinning forests where firefighting efforts over the preceding century had allowed smaller trees and shrubs to build up beyond normal levels. Called the National Fire Plan, the program targeted some 42,500 square miles of forest, especially where forests and communities meet.

Those efforts, and others, are indeed undergoing a big test this year. In Georgia, firefighters are battling a 295,000-acre blaze in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The fire began April 30. And Texas, which begins its tally each Nov. 15, has seen nearly 14,000 fires burn a record 3.2 million acres so far this season.

Meanwhile, firefighters in New Mexico are struggling to contain the Las Conchas fire, which began June 26 and has burned nearly 148,000 acres. In Arizona, the Wallow fire is more than 95 percent contained. That blaze began May 29 and has blackened 538,000 acres, including 15,000 acres in New Mexico. Both fires set state records.

The number of acres burned in 2011 could surpass the record set by wildfires in 2006, says Roberta D'Amico, an information specialist with the National Inter agency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. But, she cautions, much will depend on what happens in other parts of the West in July and August.

Although heavy snows this past winter as well as spring snow and rain in the Northwest and northern Rocky Mountains have triggered flooding along rivers, they also have kept forests moist, reducing the risk of large, intense wildfires.

"I'm sitting here in Idaho, and it's unusual for our mountains to be green this time of year," Ms. D'Amico says.

Several factors have contributed to this year's remarkable fire season, explains Laura McCarthy, senior policy adviser for fire and forest restoration at the Nature Conservancy office in Santa Fe, N.M.

Fire policies for most of the 20th century focused on snuffing out every blaze. This reduced the frequency of ground-hugging, low-intensity fires that would clear the forest floors of shrubs, small trees, and ground litter. Without those fires, forests became more densely populated with trees and shrubs of varying heights - ladders for flames to reach the pitch-rich crowns of mature trees.

Despite efforts to restore forests to more-natural fire regimes, "about 80 percent of our forests in the Lower 48 states ... are in either a moderately or severely degraded condition, which means they're experiencing too much, too little, or the wrong kind of fire," Ms. McCarthy says.

Moreover, the climate change that scientists have documented in the West has extended the fire season.

Shorter-term climate conditions also have contributed to this year's fires, according to Martin Hoerling, a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific from late last summer through this spring pushed the average storm tracks across North America farther north than usual, he explains.

Thus, the southern tier - from Arizona through northern Florida and Georgia - has been experiencing droughts ranging from extreme to exceptional (see map).

The onset of the hurricane season in the Gulf and the North American monsoon season in the Southwest may ease things somewhat, Dr. Hoerling says.

Beyond climate issues are land-use practices, McCarthy adds. Where logging has occurred, smaller trees more vulnerable to fire are left behind. Where livestock have grazed, the ground is denuded of the grasses and "fine fuels" that could sustain useful low-level fires. And urban encroachment has put more people into contact with forests, increasing the likelihood of fires set directly or indirectly by humans.

In the Southwest, where ponderosa forests play a vital role economically and ecologically, intense crown fires such as the Wallow stand a fair chance of altering the landscape for decades, if not longer, researchers say.

This year's fires could also have greenhouse-gas implications. A wildfire destroyed 26,000 acres of ponderosa pine in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Ariz., in 1996. Over the following decade, the burned area turned into a net source of carbon dioxide for the atmosphere, researchers from Northern Arizona University found.

With so much at stake, scientists are trying to figure out the right blend of techniques and the right treatment intervals for restoring more-natural fire regimes to ponderosa forests and beyond.

A team led by Northern Arizona University's Peter Fulé used data from a forest restoration site near the Grand Canyon to model the effects of potential treatments over the next 100 years.

Under a steady climate, the team found, forests could retain their resilience to wildfires if low-level fires were set every five years or so. With a warmer climate, they found that prescribed burns needed to take place only every 20 years, on average; vegetation's growth slows as the climate warms. Used tags: , ,
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Raging wildfires: Climate changes to blame for record season?

Saturday 16 July 2011 at 06:07 am Raging wildfires: Climate changes to blame for record season?


By Pete Spotts


The images are stark: soot-grimed firefighters steering bulldozers or wielding shovels to clear underbrush; curtains of orange flame tracing the contours of summits; aircraft dumping chemicals to slow a fire's progress.

Between Jan. 1 and early July of 2011, slightly more than 38,000 wildfires charred the landscape in the United States at a record pace. So far this year, wildfires have consumed just under 4.9 million acres of forest and grassland, a cumulative expanse the size of New Jersey.

That's 1 million more acres than fires consumed during the same period in 2006, which saw a record 9.9 million acres burned for the entire year.

Beyond the numbers, this year's fires may provide the first large-scale tests of the effectiveness of projects undertaken over the past decade to help forests survive wildfires, several specialists say.

The West's forests are adapted to deal with certain types of wildfires, researchers note. But since the mid-1980s, they add, some of these forests have experienced an increasing number of fires to which they are not well adapted.

Many researchers trace this shift in part to climate change. more

Hybrid Moves Into Housing

Sunday 22 May 2011 at 01:14 am Hybrid Moves Into Housing


By Brenda Krueger Huffman

(Chicago) – Recycling - Check. Conserving energy - Check. Hybrid car - Next car, check. Hybrid home system - What? Yes, it’s here. Hybrid has seamlessly, successfully moved into housing.

Safety Power, Inc. was initially started to provide homes with back up power. The company quickly grew to include renewable energy options and advising commercial and industrial clients with electrical conservation. Recently the company has come full circle and began marketing a new more capable type of renewable energy system for homes.

The award winning firm was voted one of the “Top 5 Sustainable Product Companies in Illinois” and continues to grow its residential client base in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Safety Power also serves larger firms on the national level.

Robert Brazzale, President of Safety Power, a master electrician turned entrepreneur, began Safety Power in 2007. An avid member of Local First Chicago, Rob believes in assisting sustaining local economies with green collar jobs and belongs to many green orientated groups in Chicago and around the country. more

Are electric car makers missing the trick?

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 11:12 am Are electric car makers missing the trick?


by Martin Ott

I believe that electric car makers may be driving us all down the road that may result in the same sort of technology failures that we have seen in the past.
I'm not referring to the Sinclair scooter here but cast your mind back to the débâcle of Betamax v VHS home recording systems. The eventual winner was the technically inferior VHS but the battle was not resolved until innumerable consumers had paid out for worthless Betamax systems. Back in the 70's a similar conflict occurred over audio systems when America fell in love with the 8 track tape system that moved magnetic tape in a loop over the player head at a high speed resulting in a better sound. The world market finally dictated that the audio cassette was the way to go but not until millions of consumers had been lumbered with home and in-car systems that went down the technological cul de sac. more

Wind Turbine Manufacturer Acknowledges SGS´s Contribution towards Successful Project Completion

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 10:57 am by Suresh Varma

The Theni Wind Farm project was developed by CLP India Pvt. Ltd., one of the major wind farm project developers in India. Located in the south western part of Tamilnadu, a southern state of the country, the facility consists of 60 Vestas V82 geared wind turbines. As recognition of its contribution towards the successful execution of this wind power project SGS received Vestas award.

Each turbine at the wind farm has a capacity of 1.65 MW IEC Class IIB machine with a blade diameter of 82 m. After a six-month long completion period, the Theni Wind Farm was officially opened in May, 2010.

Acting as contract engineer during project execution, SGS was responsible for ensuring that all activities were carried out at the site by the contractor in line with the final agreement. In doing so, SGS supervised the quality of construction works, the fulfillment of the technical parameters and kept the project within the scheduled time and contracted price. more

E.ON uses PPC's Broadband Powerline technology in smart grid project

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 10:37 am E.ON uses PPC's Broadband Powerline technology in smart grid project

by Power Plus Communications

Mannheim - Power Plus Communications AG (PPC), the leading provider of Broadband Powerline Communication systems (BPL) for smart grids has taken on a key role within an E.ON smart grid project to facilitate an extension of Cisco's Connected Grid Solution.

E.ON Westfalen Weser AG is currently trialing smart grid technology within its network of 1.3 million inhabitants and PPC's proven medium voltage BPL solution has connected substations in the project using the existing power grid.

Using BPL technology, standard compliant and IP-based data transfer rates of 5-30 Mbit/s can easily be achieved via the medium voltage cable itself. Within E.ON’s smart grid project, PPC's medium voltage technology facilitated the extension of Cisco's Connected Grid Solution. The Cisco smart grid Router and Switches used in the project are highly compatible with BPL networks, providing a real cost advantage over fiber optic networks – which can be much more expensive where cables are not pre-existing.

By combining their technology at Westfalen Weser, PPC and Cisco have ensured the evolution of fast and efficient smart grids which are controlled on an IP basis. This increases the reliability of the power grid, fulfills regulations and drives down costs. At the same time this modern smart grids communications technology makes it possible to effectively integrate renewable energy into the grid. more

MIT Infrastructure "Life Cycle" Study is Progress Both Left & Right Can Embrace - Part 2, Fiscal Responsibility

Saturday 19 February 2011 at 09:02 am By Brenda Krueger Huffman


Chicago – Perhaps moving to the center is where we all need to be politically on the environment and effective spending compatibility. Not all green technology is crazy, and not all business profit or government expenditure is evil.

Even if you do not believe in man caused climate change, we can all agree leaving a cleaner planet and a more fiscally responsible government for the next generation is preferable to not doing so.

Perhaps green technology can be cost effective, and government fiscal responsibility may realistically include affordable green initiatives. Honest “life cycle analysis” and “life cycle cost analysis” study considerations should be a political compromise starting point both the left and the right can embrace. more

Global warming: Impact of receding snow and ice surprises scientists

Thursday 27 January 2011 at 11:05 am Global warming: Impact of receding snow and ice surprises scientists

By Pete Spotts


Washington - A long-term retreat in snow and ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere is weakening the ability of these seasonal cloaks of white to reflect sunlight back into space and cool global climate, according to a study published this week.

Indeed, over the past 30 years, the cooling effect from this so-called cryosphere – essentially areas covered by snow and ice at least part of the year – appears to have weakened at more than twice the pace projected by global climate models, the research team conducting the work estimates.

The study, which appeared online Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience, represents a first cut at trying to calculate from direct measurements the impact of climate change on the Northern Hemisphere's cryosphere. The study was conducted by a team of federal and university scientists who examined data gathered between 1979 and 2008. more

EPA presents plan on greenhouse gases

Wednesday 05 January 2011 at 10:38 pm By Mark Clayton


Washington - Setting the stage for a New Year battle royal between Congress and the White House over greenhouse gas emissions, the US Environmental Protection Agency Thursday laid out a timetable for the nation's largest carbon emitters – power plants and refineries – to begin curbing those pollutants.

Republicans have said all year that they plan to pull out all the stops to keep the EPA from phasing in greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations beginning in 2011, saying they would damage the energy industry, raise prices, and cost jobs.

Rep. Fred Upton (R) of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has said he opposes the regulations on greenhouse gases and indicated he would lead efforts to revoke EPA regulations in the next Congress. The new regulations, he says, will likely lead to the shut down of coal-fired power plants.

"To protect jobs and fortify our energy security, we should be working to bring more power online, not shutting plants down," Mr. Upton said in a statement. "We are woefully unprepared to meet our nation's growing energy demands, yet this administration's 'none of the above' energy policy will do nothing but cost jobs, make energy more expensive, and increase our dependence on foreign sources of energy."

Environmentalists lauded the EPA's move. more

Supreme Court takes global warming case that targets power companies

Monday 13 December 2010 at 03:21 am By Warren Richey,


Washington - The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to examine a major environmental lawsuit that seeks to force six electric power companies to cap and reduce their carbon-dioxide emissions to fight global warming.

The lawsuit - filed in 2004 by eight states, the City of New York, and three land trusts - targets what it claims are the largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States and among the largest in the world.

It seeks a judicial order declaring that the fossil-fueled power plants are a "public nuisance." It also seeks a judicial order capping the plants' greenhouse gas emissions and requiring the plants to adopt a schedule of reduced emissions in future years. more

Outside Cancun climate conference, Caribbean Sea testifies to global warming

Monday 13 December 2010 at 03:09 am By Ezra Fieser,


Bayahibe, Dominican Republic - This summer's extreme heat may seem like a distant memory as winter approaches the United States.

But the summer that broke heat records across the Northern Hemisphere is still being felt below the surface of the Caribbean Sea: 2010 will likely be one of the most deadly years on record for coral reefs.

If diplomats attending the two-week global climate change talks that opened Monday in Cancun, Mexico, want more evidence of the negative and potentially devastating affects of warming temperatures, they need look no further than the blue sea outside their hotels. Researchers say that throughout the Caribbean coral reefs are "bleaching," a condition that occurs when they are under extreme stress due to warmer-than-normal sea temperatures. more