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Image credit: U.S. Forest Service
President Obama has promised the people of Arizona that the federal government will provide all federal resources necessary to fight the fires in Arizona. The Wallow fire has become the second largest fire in Arizona's history at approximately 400,000 acres and growing. Because it is 0% contained and most of its margins are in rugged mountainous terrain in Arizona's White Mountains, it could become the largest fire in Arizona's history if the forecasts for extreme fire weather this weekend by the National Weather Service verify. A huge area of biodiverse rugged wilderness has been charred, but damage to structures has been limited by firefighters hard work.

(Posted June 9, 2011, at 11:45 a.m.) Governor Jan Brewer spoke with President Obama this morning regarding the devastating wildfires raging in Arizona. The President voiced his concerns for the residents of the areas affected by the wildfires and promised to provide as much federal support as needed to protect life, limb and property.

“The President pledged to provide all federal resources necessary to the state of Arizona in the battle to contain the wildfires raging throughout the state,” said Governor Brewer. “The fires are a top federal responsibility and I was assured he will do everything in his power to guarantee Arizona has federal assistance in the continued fight to protect our state from this disaster.”

Image credit: NASA
An oasis of green in the desert southwest, the Apache National Forest covers the mountains due east of Phoenix and spills across the border with New Mexico. In late May and early June 2011, the island of forest became fuel for one of the largest fires in Arizona history, the Wallow Fire. This image, taken by the Landsat-7 satellite on June 7, shows the northern edge of the fire.

The image was made with infrared light. Bright red spots are actively burning areas, and darker red areas are freshly burned ground. Unburned forest and grassland is green, while sparsely planted earth or bare ground is pale pink. In many places, the fire has burned right to the edge of the forest. The image shows that the fire is intense: It has thoroughly burned the forest leaving few ribbons or patches of green in its wake.

As of June 8, the Wallow Fire had burned 389,000 acres (608 square miles) and was completely uncontained. Several communities have been evacuated, and the Apache National Forest is closed to the public. The Wallow Fire started on May 29, 2011.

The fire fighters and President Obama deserve credit for protecting people and property, but according to NASA scientists (and many other scientists in other studies)  climate change is causing the number and severity of fires to increase in the western U.S.
The only reliable way to stop the amount of fire damage from increasing is to cut the levels of greenhouse gases that are causing the west to get warmer. Weather records show that Arizona and New Mexico, where the fires have been extreme this year, have warmed rapidly for the past thirty years.

According to NASA scientists rising temperatures, declining rainfall and increasing evaporation in the western states are parching forests, leading to more forest fires and more area burned across the western United States.

Over the past 30 years, warmer and drier conditions in the Rocky Mountain West have made vegetation more flammable, which has led to an increase in wildfires, said Peter Hildebrand, director of the earth sciences directorate at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, speaking at the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado this week.

A new NASA wildfire model shows that these increasing fire trends are set to continue with a warming climate, Hildebrand said during the panel in Boulder.

As the earth heats up, global circulation patterns are changing and the winter storm track is being pushed further north. This results in less precipitation, higher temperatures and more evaporation in the Rocky Mountain West, Hildebrand explained.

NASA scientists project that with the effects of climate change, the frequency of fires in the West could increase between 30 and 60 percent by 2100.


Image credit: U.S. Forest Service

A detailed look at historical temperature, rainfall and streamflow data in the Jemez mountains of New Mexico paints a parched picture of warming and drying in the unique sky mountains of the southwest that preserve ancient ecosystems in green mountain islands separated by red and tan arid valleys and lowlands.

 The Nature Conservancy worked hard with foresters and loggers to thin trees and reduce fuel loads in the White Mountains but failed to prevent the Wallow fire. Without action to prevent climate change efforts to prevent fires are likely to fail as sky island forests become tinder dry.

A study published on line today in Science magazine shows that the snow pack in the western U.S. has been rapidly declining for the past 30 years.

In western North America snowpack has declined in recent decades, and further losses are projected through the 21st century. Here we evaluate the uniqueness of recent declines using snowpack reconstructions from 66 tree-ring chronologies in key runoff generating areas of the Colorado, Columbia and Missouri River drainages. Over the past millennium, late-20th century snowpack reductions are almost unprecedented in magnitude across the northern Rocky mountains, and in their north-south synchrony across the cordillera. Both the snowpack declines and their synchrony result from unparalleled springtime warming due to positive reinforcement of the anthropogenic warming by decadal variability. The increasing role of warming on large-scale snowpack variability and trends foreshadows fundamental impacts on streamflow and water supplies across the western USA.

More fires destroying western forests and less water to support people and ecosystems spell disaster for the west if strong action isn't taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By the end of this century the western climate is forecast to heat up 8 degrees F on the present emissions track. This rapid warming will devastate ecosystems and water supplies if it happens.

8:02 PM PT: Please see PBS's show "Sky Island" which will be shown in July. http://www.pbs.org/...

Watch the full episode. See more Sky Island.

Originally posted to Climate Hawks on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 07:38 PM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots and Beyond Kyoto.

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Comment Preferences

  •  It has amazed me for many decades (11+ / 0-)

    that the speculators have always paid attention to  minerals, food, fuel, etc. but not to water -- the fundamental source of life.  That, I guess, is a good thing.  I do see, in the immediate future, political "wars" re: water rights which we have seen in the Southeast just recently.  

    I turn on my tap, like just about eveyone here, and expect safe drinking water to emerge.  Not sure if that will be the same comfort for those in drought and fracking areas.

    Thanks for the diary.

    " My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total." Barbara Jordan, 1974

    by gchaucer2 on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 07:46:36 PM PDT

    •  John Wesley Powell warned of water limits (12+ / 0-)

      for the west over 100 years ago. He has proved prophetic about western water. Svante Arrhenius calculated the effects on climate of burning CO2 over 100 years ago. Yet our politicians linger in ignorance and denial.
      AIP history of climate change.

      Greenhouse Speculations: Arrhenius and Chamberlin

      The next major scientist to consider the Earth's temperature was another man with broad interests, Svante Arrhenius in Stockholm. He too was attracted by the great riddle of the prehistoric ice ages, and he saw CO2 as the key. Why focus on that rare gas rather than water vapor, which was far more abundant? Because the level of water vapor in the atmosphere fluctuated daily, whereas the level of CO2 was set over a geological timescale by emissions from volcanoes. If the emissions changed, the alteration in the CO2 greenhouse effect would only slightly change the global temperature—but that would almost instantly change the average amount of water vapor in the air, which would bring further change through its own greenhouse effect. Thus the level of CO2 acted as a regulator of water vapor, and ultimately determined the planet’s long-term equilibrium temperature. (Again, for fuller discussion follow the link at right.)    

      In 1896 Arrhenius completed a laborious numerical computation which suggested that cutting the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by half could lower the temperature in Europe some 4-5°C (roughly 7-9°F) — that is, to an ice age level. But this idea could only answer the riddle of the ice ages if such large changes in atmospheric composition really were possible. For that question Arrhenius turned to a colleague, Arvid Högbom. It happened that Högbom had compiled estimates for how carbon dioxide cycles through natural geochemical processes, including emission from volcanoes, uptake by the oceans, and so forth. Along the way he had come up with a strange, almost incredible new idea.    

      Hogbom
      <=Simple models

      It had occurred to Högbom to calculate the amounts of CO2 emitted by factories and other industrial sources. Surprisingly, he found that human activities were adding CO2 to the atmosphere at a rate roughly comparable to the natural geochemical processes that emitted or absorbed the gas. As another scientist would put it a decade later, we were "evaporating" our coal mines into the air. The added gas was not much compared with the volume of CO2 already in the atmosphere — the CO2 released from the burning of coal in the year 1896 would raise the level by scarcely a thousandth part. But the additions might matter if they continued long enough.(2) (By recent calculations, the total amount of carbon laid up in coal and other fossil deposits that humanity can readily get at and burn is some ten times greater than the total amount in the atmosphere.) So the next CO2 change might not be a cooling decrease, but an increase. Arrhenius made a calculation for doubling the CO2 in the atmosphere, and estimated it would raise the Earth's temperature some 5-6°C (averaged over all zones of latitude).(3)

      look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening. "It's the planet, stupid."

      by FishOutofWater on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 07:57:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  If we keep this up (9+ / 0-)

    We may not be long for this world.

    We are on a path to our own destruction.  It makes me sad.

  •  This report from Albquerque's KRQE station (7+ / 0-)

    indicates that the fire crews in NM have established a fire line and done backfiring to contain the fire if/when it crosses the border. Posting the link because the vid is autoplay:

    http://youtu.be/....

    It's the best news I've heard yet about the Wallow fire. And the smoke is much less noticeable tonight than previously. Keeping our fingers crossed for a safe containment. The rest of it, not so much :(

    The price of apathy toward public affairs is to be ruled by evil men. ~ Plato

    by jan4insight on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 08:28:52 PM PDT

    •  This is very good news for people in towns (6+ / 0-)

      The fire will be hard to control in the mountains. The day of low winds will be followed by hot dry winds for the weekend according to the forecast. Hopefully, the firefighters will have protected the towns before the winds come back.

      look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening. "It's the planet, stupid."

      by FishOutofWater on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 08:40:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Friday night's forecast calls for east winds, (2+ / 0-)

        which should help to blow the fire back on itself and that would help containment. Of course as you say the mountain winds are more unpredictable. Also, the Gila NF at least when I worked there had a very active program of prescribed burning and fuel management, even in the Wilderness area, so there may not be such dense stands of continuous fuel.

        And tonight at least has been relatively smoke-free - we're enjoying the break!

        The price of apathy toward public affairs is to be ruled by evil men. ~ Plato

        by jan4insight on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 10:41:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  My brother's street after the Witch Fire (10+ / 0-)

    in 2007.  The canyon in the background was charred black.

    Photobucket

    A family we knew saw the flames in the distance . . . and minutes later, in their yard . . . they escaped in pajamas and flip-flops.

    I pray tonight for the people and animals of Arizona, and for the firefighters.

    And I pray as well for some long overdue wisdom in those who could help us stop all of this before we do end in fire.

    (New temperature records were set today in Northern Virginia; and the surviving one from 1882 was almost broken.)

    Thank you, Fish, for this most important diary.

    PROUD to be a Democrat.

    by noweasels on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 08:54:01 PM PDT

  •  A video (7+ / 0-)

    that cannot be watched if you do not believe in asking questions ...

    This merits watching / liking at Youtube to help get more eyeballs on it: here.

    Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

    by A Siegel on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 08:56:53 PM PDT

  •  hey, FOoW, (5+ / 0-)

    Beyond Kyoto is a group I started to save all the climate related diaries for background for the official and unofficial Climate Negotiations.

    Hope you'll consider adding your diaries to the queue there. Several delegates and ngos stop by to check out our take on climate science and xtreme weather, etc.

    thanks for this incredible diary.

    Reporting LIVE from Durban @COP17 ...

    by boatsie on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 09:10:02 PM PDT

  •  Once burned I doubt these forests ever come back (4+ / 0-)

    Because the rising temperatures and declining rainfall probably won't support reforestation.  

    The darkness drops again but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? William Butler Yeats

    by deepsouthdoug on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 09:56:59 PM PDT

  •  I don't believe this is settled science (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sandino, wu ming, Sneelock

    The diary contains at least one nonsense statement:

    The Nature Conservancy worked hard with foresters and loggers to thin trees and reduce fuel loads in the White Mountains but failed to prevent the Wallow fire.

    The two bolded phrases form a non sequitor - they're like saying "I brushed my teeth 3 times a day and still got colon cancer".

    You don't reduce fuel loads to prevent fire. Quite the opposite, you reduce fuel loads to invite fire - the first step in a prescribed burn is to cut and pile (or remove) excessive fuels.

    The second step is to ignite the treated area to further reduce fuel loads without harming key components of the ecosystem - fire resistant trees like large pines or firs; grasses, like bunch grasses whose roots can be as deep as 20 feet and will resprout after a fire; woody brush like willow, Oregon grape and others which can't be killed by low intensity fires, even if all of the above ground vegetation is killed off by fire. Or serotinous species like lodgepole pine, sequoia or ceanothus, whose seeds require fire temperatures to germinate.

    You thin forests and reduce fuel loads to make the forests capable of surviving fire, because these are fire-dependent ecosystems.

    Additionally, it's doubtful that all 400,000 (and probably more) acres of the White Mountains and associated forests have been adequately treated, because the Forest Service simply doesn't treat that many acres in one year or even over several years - not just in AZ, but nationwide. And AZ has seen environmental groups, especially local groups, fight fuel load reductions in National Forests. Wilderness areas are largely ignored and unmaintained.

    What I've found in paying attention to fire and forest issues in the west is that there seem to be two schools of thought. One is exemplified by this diary and statements like:

    Without action to prevent climate change efforts to prevent fires are likely to fail as sky island forests become tinder dry.

    If one takes statements like that seriously, than nothing short of shutting coal generating plants and restricting driving will save forests. People in that camp either don't know about fuel loads, or don't believe they're relevant.

    The other camp, which includes forestry scientists, and state and USFS fire managers and fire ecologists, believes that careful forest management to restore the historical range of variation to forests and incorporate fire into forest ecosystems will produce forests (and wildlife populations) that are sustainable and fire resistant.

    I happen to fall into the latter camp, because I've seen where its predictions and practices have produced the anticipated or desired results, both in nearby National Forests, and on my own property, which has experienced fire. The former camp - the "only fixing climate change can save forests" people - are ignoring the fact that even with climate change fixed, forests face a number of problems that demand attention, and by diminishing the enthusiasm for solutions that could be applied now (which, incidentally, would also contribute to reducing atmospheric CO2), I think they're contributing to the destruction of western forests.

    We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. - John F Kennedy

    by badger on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 10:09:32 PM PDT

  •  Great Job (0+ / 0-)

    Spent many a weekend in mountains around Springerville, Alpine, Greer and the headwaters of the Little Colorado.  As someone who cut their teeth learning to flyfish in the White Mts my memories of this area make these fires seem even more surreal.
    Thanks for the diary.

    Mr. Boehner, where are the jobs?

    by Tx LIberal on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 12:14:16 AM PDT

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