Tuesday, October 19

Fires in Catalua: the case of California as a warning


Tuesday, 10 November 2020 – 14:27

Researchers compare several common factors between the autonomous community and the US state, where the fire has devastated more than two million hectares in 2020

Fire in California.

Fire in California.
UdL

So far this year, more than two million hectares of forest area have burned in California (United States), an environmental catastrophe that, on a different scale, is not unlikely to be reproduced in Catalonia. This is how researchers from an international study led by the University of Lleida (UdL) and the Center for Forest Science and Technology of Catalonia (CTFC).

After analyzing seven decades of wildfire records in California, we discovered that the synergy of various meteorological factors, such as local episodes of drought, strong winds and heat waves, the effects of climate change and those of climatic teleconnections, is favoring the ideal conditions for large-scale fires to occur, explains the lead author of the study and researcher at the Hub of the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative (GFBI) at the CTFC, Adrin Cardil.

The conjunction of these climatic patterns, which in addition to feeding off each other are gradually exacerbating each other, has a special impact on Mediterranean ecosystems, where such effects, mainly those associated with climate change and extreme events, could become a factor to cause large fires, he adds the investigator.

Another factor that plays a very important role in generating the perfect storm to favor the ignition and spread of fires is the change in uses of the territory, such as, for example, the abandonment of traditional practices.

While in California the use of fire as a landscape management tool carried out by the ancient inhabitants for, among other reasons, the creation of pastures has disappeared, here activities linked to the rural world such as agriculture, extensive cattle ranching or forest management , in general, they have been gradually abandoned, says the director of the GFBI Hub and professor at the University of Lleida, Sergio de Miguel.

In both cases, the abandonment of these practices promoted by the great socioeconomic changes of recent decades has led to an increase in forest biomass, a continuity in the landscape that, in turn, has resulted in forests that are more combustible and more vulnerable to adverse weather conditions, he adds.

In this sense, and to prevent fire from destroying Mediterranean ecosystems, the researchers emphasize the importance of understanding how the synergy of the various climatic factors favors large forest fires, with the aim of developing an efficient planning of environmental resources in the long term. .

It is true that we cannot prevent our forests from burning because fire is part of the dynamics and evolution of our ecosystems. But where we can influence is how we want to live with the fires. And we can do it through forest and land management. Deciding the way in which our forests burn, modulating their intensity and extent, and controlling the ecological and socioeconomic impacts that fires generate, says De Miguel.

If we don’t, taking into account that the hectares that have burned in California this year are equivalent to the entire forest area of ​​Catalonia, the outlook is bleak. Without forests, we would have rampant problems of soil erosion, loss of agricultural fertility and biodiversity, water supply, greenhouse gas emissions and much more, concludes the researcher.

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