Climate change as potential cause of Yosemite wildfire


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | July 11, 2022

Yosemite National Park in California is experiencing a wildfire that began to grow over the weekend and had grown 2.5 square miles since Sunday morning, with zero containment. The wildfire in the park, which is affecting century-old sequoia trees, may be caused by climate change.

The fire swept through the Mariposa Grove, the largest grove in the park, which contains some of the tallest and oldest sequoia trees. Over 5,000 sequoias were threatened during the fire, but Yosemite fire information spokesperson Nancy Phillipe told the New York Times that there is no estimate on damage as of Sunday. 

Although the case of the fire is under investigation, experts say wildfires, in general, are increasing in size and impact because of climate change. Through research on past Sierra Nevada wildfires from 2001 to 2020, projections show the number of fires in the area could increase 20 percent by 2040 and the area of burning could increase 25 percent. 

According to the National Park Service, from 2015 to 2021, more than 85 percent of sequoia groves burned in wildfires. In the previous century, that percentage was 25 percent. The trees, which were once impenetrable to flames, are becoming more vulnerable to climate change-induced violent and intense fires.

Why Climate Change Makes It Harder to Fight Fire With Fire


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Simone Garza | May 9, 2022

The increase of climate change is causing longer wildfires, making it difficult to plan intentional fires.

As the summer season is approaching, there are extreme wildfires that have been reported in Nebraska, Arizona and New Mexico. New Mexico has recently been reported of a wildfire that passed over 165,000 acres. The extensions of wildfires are due to longer and drier summer seasons, drier soils, and warmer springs. Wildfires tend to have both pros and cons.

The pros of wildfires are that it permits nutrients to return to the soil, and has a part in plant reproduction. The cons of wildfires, is that it can release carbon dioxide in the air, as it can worsen climate change. The continuous spread of wildfires can lead to smog, creating issues for people that inhale the pollutants. Inhaling wildfire pollutants can cause inflammation, respiratory infections, and adjust the immune system.

Climate change has made it hard to schedule intentional wildfires, a method which assists the removal of dead tree limbs, leaves, and knock down invasive plants.

Last year, the United States Forest Service used controlled fire over 1.8 million acres of federal land. The agency is planning to tend to 50 million acres, both including national and federal lands, within the next decade. 

Parts of the U.S. are seeing a rise in hazardous air quality


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Via Flickr.

Elyse Gabor | January 24, 2021

Climate change is causing the rise of two air pollutants in the Western U.S. Air quality in the environment had improved due to the Clean Air Act of 1970, but within the last 20 years, we have seen the air become polluted again due to hot weather.

People in the Western U.S. face health risks due to the hot weather. The heat is causing the number of wildfires to grow and increasing dangerous amounts of ground-level ozone and pollution called PM 2.5. This pollution enters your lungs, causing severe and potentially fatal health issues such as lung and respiratory problems.

These wildfires can also cause harm to people who live thousands of miles away from the affected areas. The smoke produced by the fires can travel quickly to other states and regions, making the air quality unsafe.

Climate scientist at UCLA Daniel Swain said even if regulations and extreme measures are taken, air quality conditions are still likely to worsen in the upcoming years. However, cities and towns can take steps to reduce the number of emissions during times of dangerous air quality.

Artificial Snow Heightens Risks For Skiers



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Simone Garza | January 13, 2022

As climate change increases, athletes encounter safety concerns when skiing. With differences between Alpine and Nordic skiing, challenges arise from artificial snow. Artificial snow is used for outdoor winter sports due to limited snowfall.

With lessening snowfall, artificial snow that is used for racing tends to be more dangerous for athletes. The artificial snow is known to have an increase in moisture content. Skiers claim that man made snow can quickly turn into ice. The artificial snow also has increased the number of falls when racing. Interacting with the artificial snow makes skiers race faster than usual. 

The process of creating the man-made snow is done by water that is blown through nozzles in order to break down the water to small droplets which then freeze up. The larger density and water content of the artificial snow. 

With smaller amounts of natural snowfall, race courses have also shortened. Another factor to consider is the prediction of avalanches. Due to climate change, severity of dryness and heat accumulate wildfires that also trigger avalanche hazards. Climate change has also put a strain on traveling through uncontrolled terrain in growing a section during colder seasons with the decrease of natural snow.

Due to warmer climate, the prediction of shorter snowfall will likely double by the year of 2050. 

The International Ski Federation, keeps track of global reports of injuries such as snow boarding, ski jumping, Alpine skiing and freestyle skiing. The organization has declined to give information on reports made at this time.

The US is Experiencing Extreme Flooding and Extreme Drought


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Josie Taylor | January 4, 2022

As the climate continues to change, the United States of America becomes a place with both devastating amounts of precipitation and deadly droughts. The east, recently Kentucky, is drenched in water. The west, however, is dry and sometimes even on fire. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that the Eastern half of the country has gotten more rain, on average, over the last 30 years than it did during the 20th century, and at the same time, precipitation has decreased in the West. 

Stronger downpours are a clear symptom of climate change. As the climate warms, increased evaporation pumps more moisture into the air, and warmer air can hold more moisture. That means when it rains now, it tends to rain more.

The US is not the only country experiencing such extremes. Intense precipitation patterns are being observed worldwide. Most of Asia has gotten wetter, and average precipitation has increased in Northern and Central Europe. The Mediterranean has gotten drier, and is experiencing water scarcity. Much of Africa and Eastern Australia has also gotten drier 

Climate scientists are not completely sure if the changes in precipitation are a permanent feature of our warming planet, or if they reflect long-term weather variability. What we are seeing is largely consistent with predictions from climate models, which expect to see more precipitation as the world warms, with big regional differences. Wet places are expected to get wetter and dry places are expected to get drier.

More mudslides possible for southern California


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Rescue workers wade through debris and sediment following last week’s mudslide in Santa Barbara county, California. (Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Jenna Ladd | January 17, 2018

Meteorologists warn that rainfall during the fourth week of January could trigger another mudslide in southern California, where residents of Santa Barbara county are still reeling from last week’s massive landslide. Between two and five inches fell in the county between January 8th and 9th, sending boulders and thick sediment raining down on Montecito, California. A recent wildfire in the area left mountain slopes without vegetation to slow down the runoff and played into the destruction of 115 homes and the death of at least 20 people.

Jonathan Godt of the U.S. Geological Survey told the New York Times, “It was pretty rare, in essence a worse-case scenario from that standpoint. The same rainfall that falls on a burned landscape can cause a lot more damage than it would before a fire.”

AccuWeather officials have predicted that a shift in the jet stream will bring more moisture from the Pacific Ocean into southern California’s atmosphere by January 23rd and 24th. They caution that the weather pattern presents the risk for “locally heavy rainfall, flash flooding and a significant risk of mudslides.” Their report states that areas surrounding Point Conception, California are most likely to be affected.

February and March are heavy precipitation months for Santa Barbara county, and following California’s record-setting year for wildfires, conditions are right for faster-moving and more destructive landslides.

AccuWeather meteorologist Evan Duffey said, “People need to leave the area by evacuation deadlines as they are given. Once a mudslide begins, there may only be minutes to seconds before a neighborhood is wiped out.”

On The Radio – California fires bring toxic ash


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Ash coats destroyed vehicles near Santa Rosa, California near the end of October. (California National Guard/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | November 6, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses how ash left from California’s recent wildfires may threaten area residents. 

Transcript: The wildfires raging throughout Northern California have finally calmed down, but the fight isn’t over.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Northern Californians have suffered greatly in the wake of the October’s wildfires that left 42 dead and around 100,000 people displaced. Over 8,000 homes and buildings were destroyed.

Residents of a neighborhood in Santa Rosa are already seeing the effects of the ash, as it has started to cover every available surface. A state of emergency for multiple counties throughout California was issued last month by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Toxic ash could contain any number of hazardous materials, including trace amounts of arsenic and lead, according to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. Many places effected by the ash have already issued health warnings to residents.

Efforts by the state of California have been made to clean up the toxic material and debris before the rainy season commences and washes toxins into local waterways.

For more information, visit Iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

Form the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Climate change made California wildfires more severe


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Smoke looms over homes in California during the Solano fire of 2013. (Robert Couse-Baker/flickr)

Jenna Ladd| October 13, 2017

A report published on Thursday in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Technology Review stated that human-induced climate change is likely to blame for the nearly two dozen wildfires ripping across northern California.

The wildfires have burned nearly 190,000 acres so far and killed 31 residents. While the source of the initial flames remains unknown, MIT points out that parts of California recently experienced a five-year drought which was “very likely” caused by climate change. The long drought left more than 100 million dead trees in its wake, which added to the amount of fuel available to this week’s wildfires. Couple that with record-setting heat in California this summer, another consequence of a changing climate, and conditions were perfect for fire.

Climate change is impacting the frequency and intensity of wildfires across the country. Since the 1980’s they’ve become more likely and more severe. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, wildfires now last five times as long, occur nearly four times as often and burn an average of six times more land area than they used to.

Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University, recently published a study looking at the impact of human-induced climate change on the size of the area wildfires have burned the western U.S. Referring to climate change, he said, “No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger, and the reason is really clear.”

Wildfires bring smoke to Iowa


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Smoke from a wildfire this May billows over a local road. (flickr/Michael Lusk)

Jenna Ladd| September 5, 2017

A yellowish haze blanketed most of eastern Iowa this Labor Day weekend thanks to wildfires in the western U.S. and Canada.

Wildfires throughout Montana, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are credited with much of this weekend’s smoke. Just this Sunday, evacuations were ordered for Glacier National Park in Montana and 140 campers were rescued from a smoldering forest on Sunday in Oregon.

As the climate changes, wet areas become wetter and dry areas become drier, allowing for longer wildfire seasons in many parts of the western U.S. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, compared to the 1980’s, wildfires now last nearly five times as long, occur almost four times as often and burn more than six times the land area on average.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Cousins said that this weekend’s haze cut visibility at Davenport Municipal Airport by two and a half miles.

A report out of Dubuque revealed that the Air Quality Index (AQI) in the area is moderate to unhealthy for individuals sensitive to poor area quality.

Wildfires become more common and intense as Earth warms up


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Smoke billows from the Lodgepole Complex wildfire of eastern Montana. (Montana Public Radio)

Jenna Ladd| July 26, 2017

A wildfire as large as New York City is currently ripping across eastern Montana, and experts say climate change making fires like these larger and more common.

As climate change takes hold, wet areas are becoming wetter and dry areas are becoming drier. Rising temperatures in spring and summer months mean that soils are remaining dry for longer, which makes drought more likely, thereby lengthening the wildfire season.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, wildfires have become more likely and more intense since the 1980’s. They last nearly five times as long, occur almost four times as often and burn more than six times the land area on average.

Moving forward, residents of fire-prone regions can expect the wildfire season to lengthen. In the southwestern U.S., scientists predict wildfire season will increase from  seven months to twelve months.

The economic impacts of wildfires are staggering. Since 2000, the U.S. Forest Service has spent more than $1 billion on fire suppression in one fiscal year on two occasions. During the first decade of the 21st century, wildfires cost an average of $665 million per year in economic damages.

In their full report on this issue, the Union of Concerned Scientists say it’s not too late for humans to slow the course of climate change. They write,

“The global temperature is increasing and the climate is changing due to the greenhouse-gas emissions we have already produced, leading to a likely rise in the incidence of wildfires. But it is not too late. What we do now has the power to influence the frequency and severity of these fires and their effects on us.”