Climate change has become the main factor responsible for the wildfires that regularly ravage the western United States. This is according to a new study. To a large extent, human activities are the cause.
In the western United States, wildfires destroyed an average of 13,500 square kilometers of land area annually between 2001 and 2018, twice as much as in 1984-2000. “It happened faster than we expected,” Rong Fu, a climate scientist at UCLA told the Times. The climate scientist is leading the study published Monday in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
To understand the reason for this rapid deterioration, Fu’s team analyzed the various factors influencing the “vapor pressure deficit,” which reflects dry air. VPD stands for the difference between the amount of water present in the atmosphere and the maximum amount that the atmosphere can hold. The greater the deficit, the more water is absorbed by the air from the soil and plants. This leads to conditions that lead to fires.
Scientists have found that the increase in wildfires in the western United States is proportional to the increase in VPD in the warm season. The study finds that the number of days when VPD is high nearly doubled in 2011-2018, compared to the previous period.
Fu and colleagues calculated that “natural” changes in the atmosphere account for an average of one-third of the causes of VPD deterioration. The rest, more than two-thirds, has been due to climate change over the past 20 years, largely as a result of human activities.
“Before 2000, classical meteorological models allowed us to explain the meteorology that fueled wildfires,” Rong Fu told the Los Angeles Times. But this is no longer the case. In fact, according to some of the models in the study, human-caused climate change could account for nearly 90 percent of VPD anomalies.
In August 2020, when California struck The biggest fire ever in the areaThe study concluded that human-induced climate change was responsible for nearly half of the “exceptionally high” vapor pressure deficit. About 4,200 square kilometers were set ablaze in this forest fire.
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