CORVALLIS, Ore. The catastrophic fires that are sweeping Southern California are consistent with what climate change models have been predicting for years, experts say, and they may be just a prelude to many more such events in the future as vegetation grows heavier than usual and then ignites during prolonged drought periods.
This is exactly what weve been projecting to happen, both in short-term fire forecasts for this year and the longer term patterns that can be linked to global climate change, said Ronald Neilson, a professor at Oregon State University and bioclimatologist with the USDA Forest Service.
You cant look at one event such as this and say with certainty that it was caused by a changing climate, said Neilson, who was also a contributor to publications of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a co-recipient earlier this month of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
But things just like this are consistent with what the latest modeling shows, Neilson said, and may be another piece of evidence that climate change is a reality, one with serious effects.
The latest models, Neilson said, suggest that parts of the United States may be experiencing longer-term precipitation patterns less year-to-year variability, but rather several wet years in a row followed by several that are drier than normal.
As the planet warms, more water is getting evaporated from the oceans and all that water has to come down somewhere as precipitation, said Neilson. That can lead, at times, to heavier vegetation loads popping up and creation of a tremendous fuel load. But the warmth and other climatic forces are also going to create periodic droughts. If you get an ignition source during these periods, the fires can just become explosive.
The problems can be compounded, Neilson said, by El Nio or La Nina events. A La Nia episode thats currently under way is probably amplifying the Southern California drought, he said.
|Contact: Ronald Neilson|
Oregon State University