More wildfires will transform US national park: study

A A A

Climate change is likely to cause more frequent wildfires and may transform the forests and ecosystem of the iconic Yellowstone national park in the coming decades, a US study said Monday.

Dense forests dominated by narrow lodgepole pines trees are currently a dominant feature of the picturesque tourist destination which straddles Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

But more open spaces, grasslands and forests populated by different kinds of fir trees and shrubs could characterize it in the future, said the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Years when no wildfires break out will become rare by 2050, and fires like the historic one in 1988 that ravaged 1,200 square miles (311,000 hectares), affecting more than one third of the park, will become the norm by 2075.

US university researchers made the forecasts by examining climate data from 1972 to 1999 and creating statistical patterns by combining those data with figures on the size and frequency of Rocky Mountain fires in the same period.

The study authors then projected how climate change of up to one degree Celsius annually, combined with the snowmelt which is arriving earlier each spring, would affect fires in Yellowstone through 2099.

"What surprised us about our results was the speed and scale of the projected changes in fire in Greater Yellowstone," said professor Anthony Westerling of the University of California, Merced.

"We expected fire to increase with increased temperatures, but we did not expect it to increase so much or so quickly. We were also surprised by how consistent the changes were across different climate projections."

After 2050, the average annual area burned was nearly 400 square miles (100,000 hectares), the study said. The fire pattern became remarkably similar to that currently seen in the US southwest.

"Large, severe fires are normal for this ecosystem. It has burned this way about every 100 to 300 years, for thousands of years," said co-author Monica Turner of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

"But if the current relationship between climate and large fires holds true, a warming climate will drive more frequent large fires in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the future."

That could mean that lodgepole pines will have less time to recover in between blazes, and they may be replaced by faster-growing varieties of shrubs and trees like aspen and Douglas fir. Wildlife will certainly be affected, too.

Some experts say it takes up to 90 years for lodgepole pines to recover when a massive blaze wipes out a forest.

"More frequent fires will not be catastrophic to the area - Yellowstone will not be destroyed - but they will undoubtedly lead to major shifts in the vegetation," said Turner.

"It is critical to keep monitoring these forests and study how they respond to future fires."

ksh/jm

 

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sports Simulator / Home Cinema Installation Technician

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Simulation Tec...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Consultants - OTE up to £35,000

£15000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Franchise Operations Manager - Midlands or North West

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The position will be home based...

Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue