According to a study released Monday, climate change caused by human activities is the main cause of unprecedented wildfires affecting the western United States.
The region destroyed an average of 1.35 million hectares of fire per year between 2001 and 2018, more than double the number in 1984-2000. “It happened much faster than we expected,” Rong Fu, who directed the study, told the Los Angeles Times, published by the American National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
To understand what contributed to such significantly worse conditions in such a short period of time, a team of U.S. researchers led by Fu examined a number of factors that contribute to “vapor pressure deficiency” (VPD), which indicates the difference between the magnitudes. The water in the atmosphere and how much can be in it. The greater the depletion, the more water is removed from the soil and plants, drying them out and creating more favorable conditions for fire.
Scientists have determined that the increase in wildfires in the western United States is closely linked to shortages in the warm season. Between May and September, the number of days with high DPV increased by 94% between 2001 and 2008 compared to the previous period, the study said.
According to Fu’s group, “natural” atmospheric variations in VPD increased by an average of only 32%. The remaining 68% increase in atmospheric water scarcity over the past 20 years is caused by global warming, mostly human activities.
“Before 2000, we could better explain this fire-friendly climate using weather patterns,” said Fu, a climate expert at the University of California. “Right now, we can only explain 30% of what we see.”
The study found that some models show that man – made warming can explain up to 88% of the anomalies observed in VPD. In August 2020, California was hit by the region’s largest wildfire, which destroyed nearly 420,000 hectares, while anthropological warming caused about 50% of the so-called “unprecedented spike” in moisture shortages, the study concluded.
According to meteorologists, the planet has already warmed to 1.1 C since pre-industrial times, due to the use of greenhouse gases, mainly fossil fuels, generated by human activities. Most of the warming has taken place in the last 50 years.
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