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Megafires - a vicious climate circle?

Richard Black | 16:50 UK time, Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The term "megafire" sounds a bit serious... and so it is.

Even more serious is the idea - raised in a report compiled for a UN meeting this week - that megafires are becoming more frequent.

Still more alarming is the notion that these magafires are somehow quantitatively different from their smaller and more common cousins:

"Megafires exceed all efforts at control until firefighters get a favourable change in weather or a break in fuels.

"Even in countries with modern tools and techniques to combat severe wildfires, firefighters are generally forced onto the defensive; taking action where they can on the fire's terms."

The grand-daddy of the fires we're talking about here is the sequence in Kalimantan on Borneo in 1997/8, where forests smouldered for many months, sparked by extremely dry El Nino conditions.

Haze in Malaysia

Haze from the 1997/8 Kalimantan fires caused chaos in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur

The episode smoked out much of East Asia, with people in countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and The Philippines suffering respiratory diseases, and economic damage put in the billions of dollars.

Since then, Brazil in 1998, the US in 2003, Greece in 2007, Botswana in 2008, Australia in 2009, and both Israel and Russia in 2010 have all seen conflagrations that the report's authors believe merit the description "megafire".

The paper's been written by a team of 10 experts from across the world, at the behest of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and has been released at the Wildfire 2011 conference in South Africa.

The list of eight fires listed above isn't exhaustive, and Kalimantan wasn't the first megafire.

But being the most recent, this group have been better studied than most, especially given the modern availability of satellite monitoring; so it with this group that the FAO panel concerns itself.

Is there a pattern across these fires? And if so, what factors, environmental and other, does it relate to?

The answer to the first question appears to be a cautious "yes - probably".

Virtually all had a human cause - mostly intentional - ranging from lighting camp fires in Europe to clearing forests for farmland in Indonesia.

Extreme weather, especially drought, was another common factor. And in virtually all, the forest had been "altered" as a result of intensive logging, land clearance, and development for human settlement.

And what of the climate?

The El Nino conditions of 1997/8 were extraordinary for the modern era. But given that climate models predict declining rainfall in some areas that are already rather dry (parts of Australia perhaps being the exemplar here), what does that imply for the future?

Here, the FAO does not draw firm conclusions - and given the uncertainties in climate modelling and the fact that there is a limited dataset of past fires on which to draw, their caution is easily understood.

Nevertheless, a cautionary note is raised:

"With the onset of more pervasive, world-wide drought, there is no longer the assurance that some places, only because they have not had severe wildfires in the past, will be safe from conflagrations in the future."

But there is also a fillip:

"Mega-fires are not occurring where land management practices are consistent with the fire ecologies and disturbance dynamics that define the ecosystem.

"Mega-fire risk is likewise much reduced in those areas where wildfire protection programs are more balanced between prevention, mitigation, and suppression elements."

Firefighting in Greece

The one thing governments and their people must not do, the report cautions, is to treat megafires as something that can be combated with greater numbers of firefighters or more sophisticated means of aerial assault.

Instead, they need to be understood as a natural phenomenon, but as living entities, subject to the whims of weather, and capable of being coaxed into relative quiescence.

And addressing them is best done with forest management - although the report notes that here there is a question of skills declining around the world.

In terms of what climate change means here, you can draw something of a parallel with coral reefs.

A healthy reef may be able to bat away the impact of exploitative fishing or excessive pollution from land.

But coral impacted by rising temperatures and progressively less alkaline oceans may not be able to.

So too, the FAO suggest, with fire.

Controls that worked in a cooler, wetter environment may not work at all as the world warms - the addition of climate change to other factors driving fires may be what's already causing the rise in incidence that the report suggests.

A final note on the climate front. The 1997 Kalimantan fires released about as much carbon dioxide as Europe's industry - plus the fact that those trees were not there any more to absorb CO2.

So in principle, megafires could be another positive feedback loop for CO2-driven warming, especially if they are increasing as the FAO suggests:

"Because CO2 emissions contribute to global warming and mega-fires are the result of drought, mega-fires (and carbon releases) may represent a dangerous feed-back loop that becomes self-perpetuating in the absence of stronger wildfire emissions monitoring and control.

Little is known of this possible iterative relationship and its long-term ramifications."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Good grief. Is there anything, anything AT ALL that can't be tied to climate change in some way?

    It really is becoming a farce now. I notice you avoid mentioning the recent wildfires in Scotland. Care to try and tell me Scotland is suffering a drought?

    The day will come when kids go to school and claim climate change ate their homework. Dogs are SO 20th century.

  • Comment number 2.

    Perhaps you really ought to consider the Megaflood too.... (and the MagaSnowStorm). All this Mega prefix stuff is marketing hype. Bad stuff happens - it always has (see Noah).

    What man con do when confronted will nature is often quite limited. There are some things that we can do and we should do them, not only for the rich west and north but for the poor east and south too.

    Don't dump our toxic waste where it cannot be safely processed. Don't build flimsy shacks on the flood plains of rivers or too near the low lying coasts. You can build your own list....

    The key is that these are things we can do and we know that they will be beneficial (i.e. not like limiting CO2 which is not a proven good use of resources at all !!!!!)

  • Comment number 3.

    I am now starting to find this funny and think in fact that Richard is now part of the gag - deliberately making ever more outrageous claims in what is actually a double bluff attempt to show up the climate change brigade for what they really are

    Well done mate and keep up the good work

    Mega fires! (laugh - I almost split my sides)

  • Comment number 4.

    Past attempts to deal with forest fires are a salutary example of well-meaning but misguided human intervention. At one time the idea was to "preserve the forest" as much as possible by trying to contain fires with fire-breaks and other such devices.

    But human intervention probably did as much harm as good, as many life forms seem to have evolved to survive fires, even to thrive as a result of fires -- after the fire has "cleared away the old wood".

    It should have been obvious to our forbears that life forms would have evolved to deal with fire -- droughts, oxygen, flammable hydrocarbons, lightning etc. have all been around a lot longer than humans. By all means try to save your house from a forest fire, but please forget the idea that you're Francis of Assisi!

    We really have to get off the contradictory religious ideas that (A) nature would collapse in a heap if it weren't for us to "shepherd" it, AND (B) nature wouldn't be in danger of collapsing in a heap except for all the humans "preying" on it.

  • Comment number 5.

    Brunnen #1 wrote:

    "I notice you avoid mentioning the recent wildfires in Scotland. Care to try and tell me Scotland is suffering a drought?"

    Same with Ireland. We got one dry April, and hundreds of farmers trying to clear gorse (furze) using fire. It got out of control for about two days, amid excited shouts from the media of "global warming drought" setting in. When suddenly... back to normal. Glug glug...

  • Comment number 6.

    Brunnen (1 - as always! Are you just sitting their desperately waiting to shoot down everything Richard Black says?!)

    Britain has just had the 11th driest month on record (and the warmest April), hence the number of fires all over the country (not just Scotland).

  • Comment number 7.

    "Is there a pattern across these fires?"

    In North America, yes. Fire suppression - Smokey the Bear - created unnatural fuel buildups. No fuel, no fire, no matter how hot, dry or whatever it is.

    Native North Americans used fire as their primary land mangement tool. ALL the historic records confirm this. So do many photographic studies where photos from the 1880s are compared to modern vegetation.

    The same is true for those mega-fires in Australia. Fuel buildup. Tons of research on the aboriginal use of fire there too.

    But, as usual for the AGW cause, here we only get the convenient part of the story.

    To repeat: No fuel, no fire, no matter how hot, dry or whatever it is.

    And this fire story is the REAL cause of those mountain pine beetle epidemics that they tried - and still try - to portray as an AGW poster child.

    P.S. Just when one might have thought that the UK AGW gang could not get any more ridiculous in their wolf crying, this seems to be creating new levels of laughter:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/05/09/uk-climate-resilient-infrastructure-billions-needed-to-combat-climate-change-effects-on-wi-fi-signals/

    LOL. Really.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    What about the UK's last three 'Mega-winters' ?

    Only I cant remember what the verdict was on what caused them?

  • Comment number 10.

    6. At 19:28pm 10th May 2011, PragueImp wrote:

    Brunnen (1 - as always! Are you just sitting their desperately waiting to shoot down everything Richard Black says?!)

    Britain has just had the 11th driest month on record (and the warmest April), hence the number of fires all over the country (not just Scotland).

    -------------------------------------------------------------------

    No, it's just lucky for me that most of what Richard writes here is so easy to shoot down one barely has to aim.

    As for the driest / warmest / wettest / most dragon infested month since records began, accurate records of weather in the UK only go as far back as 1659 and temperature records only as far back as the invention of an accurate thermometer in 1724.

    So you'll forgive me if the tiny snapshot we have of the UK's weather history doesn't cause great alarm.

  • Comment number 11.

    Megafires! Forests burning in a vicious CO2 circle! Wow that is hilarious.

    Could this cause mega-extinctions?

    Perhaps tree-huggers should be added to the endangered species list?

  • Comment number 12.

    Great article Richard. Eventually people will take notice, but only when their hair is burning. So little time.

  • Comment number 13.

    We might have been a bit more impressed Lilley, if aswell as going into details about every possible sign of impending doom catastrophic global warming mega this that and the other

    We also has some counterbalance, why no comment by Richard on some of the worst winters the UK has ever seen, why the desperate refusal to discuss the actual content of the leaked climategate e-mails

    The halo has slipped = people no longer blindly believe what they are told my friend

  • Comment number 14.

    12. At 21:56pm 10th May 2011, John Lilley wrote:

    Great article Richard. Eventually people will take notice, but only when their hair is burning. So little time.

    --------------------------------------------------

    Yeah, yeah. We've been told that since the 80's. The apocalypse you greenies so look forward to just keeps on failing to materialise.

  • Comment number 15.

    I do get fed up, but not with these blogs, nor do I get fed up with the debate on climatechange...

    I do get fed up up with this that try to personalise or dish people or reporters for their views or reporting.

    Come on if you want to talk lets talk facts NOT dish those that have a different view.

  • Comment number 16.

    To quote Richard Black's article

    "Mega-fires are not occurring where land management practices are consistent with the fire ecologies and disturbance dynamics that define the ecosystem.

    "Mega-fire risk is likewise much reduced in those areas where wildfire protection programs are more balanced between prevention, mitigation, and suppression elements."


    If so many fires are started by human activity, then It's pretty clear an effective approach is to educate people about the risks within the specified area, but also- more generally- to use common sense, follow fire safety rules & obey fire laws.

    If that's what it takes to reduce the severity and risk of out-of-control wildfires, it seems reasonable, but then again unfortunately, people aren't always reasonable :s

  • Comment number 17.

    #15. Nigel Hiller-Garvey wrote:

    "I do get fed up up with this that try to personalise or dish people or reporters for their views or reporting.

    Come on if you want to talk lets talk facts NOT dish those that have a different view."

    Fair comment Nigel. But perhaps you missed this:

    "I'm Richard Black, environment correspondent for the BBC News website. This is my take on..."

    Richard is not an objective journalist. He is a columnist presenting HIS "take," which means his entirely subjectiove selection of information used to support it. Thus we only get one side of the story, no admission of any errors, and, of course, no in depth looks at anything or follow ups on false facts and changing information.

    So your comment is not valid in this case. And we do bring facts but they are almost always ignored. Richard needs to stand up and take criticism for his "take," and he does. he ignores all critiocal comments and information. Long time readers knows what Richard (and the whole BBC) does and Richard knows what to expect form comments, I assume.

    Again, here's a fact that Richard completely ignored in this story: no mega-fuel buildups, no mega-fires no matter how hot and dry it is. Period.

  • Comment number 18.

    Well I liked you article finding it informative and balanced. please don't be disheartened by the Pliny Ostriches.

  • Comment number 19.

    18 Justin,I agree with those sentiments.Deserves better than some of the *Vicky Pollard'esque* replies

  • Comment number 20.

    re: 17 CR Again, here's a fact that Richard completely ignored in this story: no mega-fuel buildups, no mega-fires no matter how hot and dry it is. Period.

    Crikey. Here I was ready to chime in and agree with the bulk of your number 7, thinking you were elaborating in a thoughtful way on the issue of 'management practices' Black writes about in his column.

    I was even going to gorse about what in God's name "management practices are consistent with the fire ecologies and disturbance dynamics that define the ecosystem" actually means (I am still scratching my head -- I think it means something like what CR is talking about as far as removing fuel, at least in part, but ... ?)

    Alas, you hop on your polemical high horse and charge across the veldt at windmills only you can see. Happy trails!

    Anyway, what I found encouraging about this column is the notion that the fire issue is a forest management issue, and as such is fixable by implementing local best practice tactics.

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    Mega-tosh

  • Comment number 23.

    13. At 22:27pm 10th May 2011, openside50 wrote:

    "We also has some counterbalance, why no comment by Richard on some of the worst winters the UK has ever seen"

    Not having been in Britain during the winter, was it worse in the sense of low temperatures or worse in the sense of lots of snow?

  • Comment number 24.

    7. At 19:43pm 10th May 2011, CanadianRockies wrote:

    “And this fire story is the REAL cause of those mountain pine beetle epidemics that they tried - and still try - to portray as an AGW poster child.”

    Here is a quote from real foresters who aren’t into AGW denial:

    “Extreme cold temperatures also can reduce MPB populations. For winter mortality to be a significant factor, a severe freeze is necessary while the insect is in its most vulnerable stage; i.e., in the fall before the larvae have metabolized glycerols, or in late spring when the insect is molting into the pupal stage. For freezing temperatures to affect a large number of larvae during the middle of winter, temperatures of at least 30 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) must be sustained for at least five days.”

    Full article at:

    http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05528.html

  • Comment number 25.

    Fire played a role in forest ecology long before the humans arrived in North America. Lightning starts many fires now and presumably did before the humans arrived in North America.

  • Comment number 26.

    The real reason for fire suppression in North American forests was not concern for wildlife, but because the people who set policy looked at forests like corn fields, grow them up and chop them down, repeat until the soils have been exhausted or washed away. Letting fire burn out the underbrush and small trees in a Ponderosa pine forest, which is what would happen without human intervention, was considered to be cutting into their profits.

  • Comment number 27.

    Hey Walleye,

    Always good to hear your counter-rants.

    Anyhow, no we haven't clear cut our property. We manage it as our own private wildlife sanctuary. You would actually be impressed. Maximum diversity for maximum biodiversity. Some we create, on top of the wide range of habitats that were here when we arrived. And in this area there is still more biodiversity due to agriculture mixing in with natural forests. And above the valley the mountain goats are coming out on the cliffs to have their kids right now. On the down side, the long mega-snow winter seems to have taken its toll on the deer population but the elk seem OK. No bears yet but any day now. First Rufous Hummingbird two days ago... little late.

    Mt pine beetle. Short story. Like all species they need habitat. Their viable habitat is the cambium layer of certain species of pine. The huge beetle kills were mostly in lodgepole pine. To support those 'unprecendented' epidemics they needed 'unprecedented' amounts of habitat. What created that? Fire suppression.

    Mt pine beetles are always in those forest ecosystems, attacking mature trees. Unless the tree is weak or dying, or unless there are epidemic levels of beetles, they can usually fight them off.

    Bottom line, no unprecedented amount of habitat no mt pine beetle epidemics NO MATTER HOW WARM WINTERS ARE. Sorry about that. But get it? Smokey the Bear created all that habitat.

    I could go on and on on this one. Did a lot of work of the huge mt pine beetle epidemic that hit Waterton and Glacier Nat Parks... do you know how long ago that was? They were predicting ice ages back then.

    P.S. re #21 - Had no idea. Equally reprehensible. Not my hero.

    Right out back see I've inspired

  • Comment number 28.

    20. chronophobe wrote:

    "management practices are consistent with the fire ecologies and disturbance dynamics that define the ecosystem" actually means (I am still scratching my head -- I think it means something like what CR is talking about as far as removing fuel, at least in part, but ... ?)"

    The trick is that it has taken many decades for the old Smokey the Bear mentality to be overcome. With stuff now built in many areas, and the value of timber, it will always be there now. The real impact of aboriginal burning in the creation of 'natural' ecosystems was and still is dismissed by many, but it has already been acknowledged in Canadian national parks. In the States they are still in some kind of denial about the existence of those people or their impacts. Same with Australia it seems.

    So prescribed burning in national parks is intended to replace aboriginal burning impacts. Not lightning as so many claim. In most areas lightning frequency cannot account for fire frequency and in my part of the Rockies the seasons don't fit at all.

    This factor needs to be considered in the 'baseline' for all forest ecosystems.

    Bit of irony. Modern Los Angeles is famous for its (now much 'better') smog. The first Spanish explorers to see it called it the 'Bay of Smokes' because of all the fires burning there. Annual event. All those endless chaparall thickets you see burning so intensely in southern California now - AGW!!!!! - were not there under Native California land management.

    No fuel, no fire, no matter how hot and dry.

    There. Got through the whole thing without screaming fire once. Well maybe once.

  • Comment number 29.

    Ooops. In my #27 I left some words dangling... have no idea what they satrted as.

    #26. HungeryWalleye wrote:

    "The real reason for fire suppression in North American forests was not concern for wildlife, but because the people who set policy looked at forests like corn fields, grow them up and chop them down, repeat until the soils have been exhausted or washed away."

    True, it was not concern for wildlife entirely but that was part of it. Look back to when the US Forest Service was established. Total rape and pillage days. Cream the best trees and, oops, burn the rest. In the process wildlife habitat was also being destroyed, compounding major overhunting. This was when there really was a serious 'extinction crisis' in the US and North America.

    At the same time, they thought fire was "bad." They passing laws to prevent aboriginal burning because it "destroyed" the forest, they thought.

    "Letting fire burn out the underbrush and small trees in a Ponderosa pine forest, which is what would happen without human intervention, was considered to be cutting into their profits."

    It was human (aboriginal) intervention that regularly set fires in those forests to create those beautiful parklike stands. As it sounds like you know the bark of the big vets is fire resistant. But let a bunch of young pines grow up around them and bingo, increased heat and a ladder for the fire to climb from the young pines to the live branches of the vets, and they're dead too. I particularly like those trees. Real beauties.

  • Comment number 30.

    26. Walleye - Here's an article with some great ponderosa pine photos, with and without natural fire regimes.

    http://westinstenv.org/ffsci/2009/10/07/the-forest-health-crisis-how-did-we-get-
    in-this-mess/

    This is also from that article (by a leading pioneer into the whole field of real aboriginal people in the ecosystem):

    "This led me to compile data on lightning-ignition rates for every National Forest in the United States. I then compared those data to potential aboriginal-ignition rates based on estimates of aboriginal populations and the number of both inadvertent and purposefully-set fires per indigenous person per year. Even at the lowest published estimate for the number of native people in the United States prior to European influence, and assuming that each native person only set one fire per year, potential aboriginal-ignition rates were 3 to 350 times greater than documented lightning-ignition rates. Using more realistic estimates of native populations, as well as the number of fires started per person per year, potential aboriginal-ignition rates were 270 to 35,000 times greater than known lightning-ignition rates. Clearly, lightning-caused fires have been largely irrelevant for at least the last 12,000 years. Instead, the dominant ecological force has been aboriginal burning."

    I can't find that (peer reviewed published) paper right now... maybe you can. It is somewhere on that site... and it has many articles that you may find interesting.

  • Comment number 31.

    Brunnen @#1

    Well said, Global Warming (to use its more friendly, less scary name) is clearly in its final phase, the less people believe the more outrageous the claims, the more outrageous the claims the less people believe.

    openside50 @#3

    Richard a double agent? shush, don’t blow his cover.

  • Comment number 32.

    So Richard, you (and the report) conclude that the fires are man-made and exaserbated by man's manageament of the forests/bush/scrub land etc, yet you still manage to tie cAGW to it. Kudos!

    ALso, nice 'link' to ocean acidification- or rather ocean slightly less alkaline in the highest layers which is only temporary and rebalances and the oceans are buffered. Mega.

    :-)

  • Comment number 33.

    Nigel (15) (plus Justin 18 and Ryan 19)
    Unfortunately you are right – these pages have been taken over by a small group who constantly dish people who dare to have an opposing view to theirs – being rude, sarcastic, laughing at them and even using insults (classic symptoms of people who have lost the argument).
    There used to be many more contributors here but they seem to have given up hope of ever having a sensible debate because of the selfish minority who seem to think this is their blog.

  • Comment number 34.

    HingeryWalleye


    "Not having been in Britain during the winter, was it worse in the sense of low temperatures or worse in the sense of lots of snow?"

    last winter UK temperatures were 5c below norm, not a word from Mr Black, if we had a summer 5c ABOVE normal we would I suspect have been innundated with article after article telling us we were doomed and this was undeniable proof IMVHO

  • Comment number 35.

    It seems that in his haste to dismiss Richard's article, CR forgot to actually read and understand the piece. Nothing new there perhaps, but I wish CR would do otherwise - even sometimes would make for more interesting reading. The article descrivbes the need to address fire management within the context of overall forest management, not to simply pick the politically favourable 'poster child' approach in the hope it will solve everything.

    Brunnen - seems you didn't look at the report on soil moisture (9th May) - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13338174

  • Comment number 36.

    I don't mind Richard Black's constant pro AGW ramblings, I just wish the BBC would give some webspace to the other side of the argument. As it stands it's just unbalanced and reaching a point where it may be necessary to look at some form of legal redress to get the balance we are paying for, back.

  • Comment number 37.

    Good example of that beesman is the different coverage the respective poles receive

    Arctic where ice is decreasing - massive coverage, doom gloom, THE conclusive evidence that global warming is happening, endless stories

    Antarctica which holds the vast majority of the worlds ice/fresh water and where ice is actually in creasing - virtually nothing

  • Comment number 38.

    openside (50)
    Where did you get that from?!!
    The East Antarctica ice sheet is in balance, the West one is losing mass.

  • Comment number 39.

    35. At 11:06am 11th May 2011, simon-swede wrote:

    It seems that in his haste to dismiss Richard's article, CR forgot to actually read and understand the piece. Nothing new there perhaps, but I wish CR would do otherwise - even sometimes would make for more interesting reading. The article descrivbes the need to address fire management within the context of overall forest management, not to simply pick the politically favourable 'poster child' approach in the hope it will solve everything.

    Brunnen - seems you didn't look at the report on soil moisture (9th May) -

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------

    Looked at it now, thanks for the link. But still, big deal. The UK has a warm dry April and this is proof of what exactly?

    Richard would have us believe it's another omen of The End of Days as prophesied by every idiot on the AGW bandwagon.

    I see it as nothing more than a dry April. If our weather and temperature records showed anything but the TINIEST possible snapshot of UK weather I might be concerned, but the 11th driest month in 300 odd years? Big deal.

  • Comment number 40.

    simon-swede (35)
    To be fair to CR, at least he stuck to the subject (wildfires) at times while others simply went on a rant about climate change.
    However, the debate over fires has misguidedly focussed on forests. The article is not about forests fires. Many wildfires are on grassland and heathland. The recent ones in the UK and Ireland are heath fires – as Bowman points out (5) the Irish ones seem to be due to gorse clearing. The problem is the dead material from the previous season – it is a real fire hazard if it has been very dry and there is little fresh vegetation (I know, I have managed such land). Controlled burning is a management technique, especially on heather moorlands; it removes the old woody growth and allows regrowth.

    CR talks about fire management by native North Americans and Australians – it’s true, but it was not mainly for clearing forests but rather for clearing grasslands and scrub to encourage regrowth.
    CR’s idea of ‘no fuel no fire’ is therefore misguided I think – with grassland and heathland the fuel is most definitely there every spring.

    Ryan (16) – if only people would stick to the rules it would be so easy. Most of these fires are arson.

  • Comment number 41.

    38. At 12:23pm 11th May 2011, PragueImp wrote:

    openside (50)
    Where did you get that from?!!
    The East Antarctica ice sheet is in balance, the West one is losing mass.

    --------------------------------------------------------

    If by "in balance" you mean the eastern ice sheet is growing, then yes, it is "in balance". I suspect you meant it is neither growing nor shrinking, which just isn't true.

    http://www.news.com.au/antarctic-ice-is-growing-not-melting-away/story-0-1225700043191

    Yes, the western ice sheet has lost some mass, but given that the Eastern ice sheet is four times the size of the western and is growing that means Antarctica isn't melting, despite what the doomcriers would have you believe.

  • Comment number 42.

    "Where did you get that from?!!
    The East Antarctica ice sheet is in balance, the West one is losing mass."


    Antarctica has been increasing in size at the rat of 100,000sq kms per decade ever since satellite measurements began back in the late 70's

    Its a disingenuous of you to say one small section of it is in balance without mentioning the much larger remainder - why did you do that?

    Losing mass? pull the other one, the warmists have been trying for years to find something to say which would counter sceptics who point to Antarctica ice growth

    A measuring method as controversial as used to measure mass just shows how desperate they are - it growing in size but getting thinner - honestly :-)

    Mega-thinning

  • Comment number 43.

    open side and Brunnen:
    Antarctica IS losing ice!
    Sea ice has been increasing, but land ice has been decreasing.

    http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/20100108_Is_Antarctica_Melting.html
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/antarctica-gaining-ice.htm

  • Comment number 44.

    Apologies to everyone for following opensides off-topic comments. I will stick to the topic from now on - wildfires!

  • Comment number 45.

    As to the fires, I remember as a child seeing huge forest fires reported on the news, usually in the US. No one used ludicrous terms like 'megafires'. Human activity was usually to blame, pyromaniacs waiting for a dry spell or idiot campers leaving campfires unattended were the normal cause.

    As a slight aside, is it too much to expect a BBC journalist to use correct English? Megafire is NOT a real word, it's lazy hyperbole at best.

  • Comment number 46.

    There is a good overview of ocean acidification here as well as an overall description of the CO2 problem:
    http://tos.org/oceanography/issues/issue_archive/issue_pdfs/22_4/22-4_kump.pdf

    "It is the rate of CO2 release that makes the current great experiment so geologically unusual, and quite probably unprecedented in Earth history. Indeed, much of industrialization and economic activity revolves around energy generated from fossil fuels. In other words, much of humanity is, in effect, engaged in a collective and deliberate effort to transfer carbon from geological reservoirs to the atmosphere as CO2. The resulting rate of environmental change very likely far exceeds that associated with past greenhouse transient events, and will have been exceeded in the geological record only by bolide impacts of the sort that caused the K/T extinction 66 million years ago (Figure 1). Lesser events in the geologic past have left an indelible imprint on the geologic and biotic record. “Business as usual” combustion of fossil fuels, unless accompanied by an aggressive and successful program of carbon capture and storage, is likely to leave a legacy of the Anthropocene as one of the most notable, if not cataclysmic, events in the history of our planet."

  • Comment number 47.

    Prague, do you HONESTLY expect me to take the word of skepticalscience.com for anything?

    Frankly, that's insulting to my intelligence, unless you actually want me to pretend that site is anything other than an AGW advocacy site.

  • Comment number 48.

    "quite probably", "very likely", "is likely"

    Glad we're not mincing our words here...

  • Comment number 49.

    '33. At 10:38am 11th May 2011, PragueImp
    these pages have been taken over by a small group who constantly dish people who dare to have an opposing view to theirs – being rude, sarcastic, laughing at them and even using insults (classic symptoms of people who have lost the argument).
    There used to be many more contributors here but they seem to have given up hope of ever having a sensible debate because of the selfish minority who seem to think this is their blog.


    Have to agree with the sentiment. If, perhaps, wondering who is pot and who is kettle.

    Maybe on a blog, where all sorts of opinions can be shared, the best thing is to let the arguments and their authors thrive, survive or fail simply by their persuasiveness. Or lack of.

    It would be a pity to return to those days when little cabals got together off piste and then issued joint communiques on etiquette or how the mods should really keep things just they way they like it, and when indulged on occasion going on to demand all sorts of unpleasant things of those not deemed on (their) message.

    Which seemed at the time to be a bit more than insulting.

  • Comment number 50.

    "Antarctica IS losing ice!
    Sea ice has been increasing, but land ice has been decreasing. "


    Hilarious, the bit round the edges is getting colder but the middle warmer

    You are saying the increase in Antarctica ice is a sign of global warming and the decrease in Arctic ice is also a sign of global warming

    Even when you are wrong you are right hey?

    I wish we had emoticoms

  • Comment number 51.

    So Brunnen (47), we should believe and trust sites that you quote and read, but you won't do the same?
    And what did you say earlier? (39): ''...the 11th driest month in 300 odd years? Big deal.'' So even when presented with facts you just say 'don't care, not listening'!
    Hardly the basis for a discussion.

  • Comment number 52.

    RE: #45

    I didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings, I just meant to point out that 'megafire' isn't a real word, much like standees or irregardless.

  • Comment number 53.

    And what did you say earlier? (39): ''...the 11th driest month in 300 odd years? Big deal.'' So even when presented with facts you just say 'don't care, not listening'!
    Hardly the basis for a discussion.

    11th driest month? wow!

    What about the coldest winter ever recorded aka UK 2010, I suppose that was just weather :-)

  • Comment number 54.

    51. At 15:31pm 11th May 2011, PragueImp wrote:

    So Brunnen (47), we should believe and trust sites that you quote and read, but you won't do the same?
    And what did you say earlier? (39): ''...the 11th driest month in 300 odd years? Big deal.'' So even when presented with facts you just say 'don't care, not listening'!
    Hardly the basis for a discussion.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    What sites would they be? I exclusively reference news sites here. I never reference biased blogs (skepticalscience & wattsupwiththat, I'm looking in YOUR direction here) so yes, news sites are more worthwhile than propaganda sites on either side of the debate.

    Some news organisations still try to be unbiased...

    And no I didn't say I didn't care or wasn't listening, just that 300 years of records is statistically insignificant when taken over a long timespan like the 10,000 years since the end of the last ice age and even less so when one considers the 3.8 billion years Earth has supported life.

  • Comment number 55.

    54...when one considers the 3.8 billion years Earth has supported life


    Very few dispute that, yet humans need certain optimal conditions to survive comfortably. If virtually all severe wildfires had a human cause, adjusting human behaviour can therefore reduce the severity and number of wildfires. We wouldn't need to adopt new words to accomodate changes in environment.Megafires is a simpler way of phrasing "severe wildfires"
    The controlled use of fire in land management might be accepted practice & be of benefit in certain environments, but the vast majority of wildfires are through human negligence and willful destruction. In Northern Ireland for example, a man was reportedly seen with a petrol can close to one of the worst gorse fires for years in the Mourne Mountains. In Omagh, 2 youths were arrested on arson charges, for a spate of wildfires -one of the kids was only 10 -the list could go on... If climate change is drying out certain habitats, combined with the predilection of some towards humanities more destructive side , having a new word- Megafires - to describe what's going on is hardly surprising.

    Beyond nit picking over words, the destruction of vegetation , nesting birds and other wildlife is a pretty high price to pay for someones pyromania. I doubt if the kids arrested in Northern Ireland would get the same buzz if someone set fire to their bedroom

  • Comment number 56.

    #40. PragueImp wrote:

    "simon-swede (35)

    To be fair to CR, at least he stuck to the subject (wildfires) at times while others simply went on a rant about climate change."

    Well, I'll take that as a compliement. Thank you.

    "However, the debate over fires has misguidedly focussed on forests. The article is not about forests fires. Many wildfires are on grassland and heathland. The recent ones in the UK and Ireland are heath fires – as Bowman points out (5) the Irish ones seem to be due to gorse clearing. The problem is the dead material from the previous season – it is a real fire hazard if it has been very dry and there is little fresh vegetation (I know, I have managed such land). Controlled burning is a management technique, especially on heather moorlands; it removes the old woody growth and allows regrowth."

    All my comments also apply to grasslands. Which, if not regularly burned, first buildup those annual fuels and then, more importantly, also allow for shruuby vegetation to develop, adding more fuels. That is what happened in California and on the Great Plains. Since the suppression of aboriginal burning on the Great Plains the aspen parkland belt has moved much further onto the grasslands and successional vegetation has expanded everywhere (except where the land is farmed of course).

    The existence of trees in areas protected by sand dunes in the hottest and driest part of the Canadian plains is just one piece of evidence that explains that the grasslands were largely a human (fire) creation.

    So there is no fundamental substance to your point - just details.

    "CR talks about fire management by native North Americans and Australians – it’s true, but it was not mainly for clearing forests but rather for clearing grasslands and scrub to encourage regrowth."

    Total overgeneralization and therefore as inherently false as it is true. For example, when you repeatedly burn forests you get something like savannah or grasslands... so where is the line between them? And they burned landscapes for a whole variety of reasons as well as what you noted.

    "CR’s idea of ‘no fuel no fire’ is therefore misguided I think – with grassland and heathland the fuel is most definitely there every spring."

    OK. Try this. Burn it once. Then try to light it again a week later.

    Or burn it in spring (as was typically done) and light it again the next spring. Then wait ten years, do it again, and compare the resulting fire. Or, leave%

  • Comment number 57.

    Brunnen (54) Firstly, thanks! – it’s good to discuss rather than just shout at each other!
    I totally accept your first point. I also don’t like to see people constantly backing up their argument with clearly biased websites.
    I actually hadn’t seen scepticalscience before today. I put ‘Antarctica ice’ into Google and it was one of the first sites that came up. I thought it looked ok – it was using balanced argument and considering both sides. And I like the ‘basic’ and ‘intermediate’ level (good for non-native speakers and for those who get put off by over-complexity).
    But if you don’t like it then fair enough.

    p.s. Brunnen (52) Maybe it was just because you accused Richard Black of making up a word (megafire)? He didn’t – the authors of the report did.
    And I don’t see a problem with the word – these fires last for days or weeks.


    openside (50) when did I mention global warming?! I just questioned your comment about the change in the Antarctica ice. Are you just presuming that anyone who questions something you say must be a non-climate sceptic?! I looked at a couple of sites (including NASA) and they say that it is decreasing.

  • Comment number 58.

    If climate change is drying out certain habitats, combined with the predilection of some towards humanities more destructive side , having a new word- Megafires - to describe what's going on is hardly surprising.

    ---------------------------------------------------

    But it isn't. The UK had two unusually dry months (well, one in Scotland, we had plenty of rain in March, thank you very much). That's it. The land wasn't dried out for an extended period (especially in Scotland, we're kind of famous for it).

    The truly annoying thing is that if those same months had been unusually wet and flooding had resulted, that would have been touted as proof of climate change too.

    And no, pointing out that a word used in the title of this article isn't a real word isn't nit picking. It's showing the decline of standards.

    Is it really too much to ask to expect journalists to express themselves by using words that actually exist?

  • Comment number 59.

    #43. PragueImp wrote:

    (open side and Brunnen):

    "Antarctica IS losing ice!"

    Well, not sure about the fire situation in Antarctica but this sheds some light on that 'catastrophe.' Sorry for the unreliable source but...

    "In the past three decades, the Adélie population on the peninsula, northeast of the Ross Sea, has fallen by almost 90 percent. The peninsula’s only emperor colony is now extinct. The mean winter air temperature of the Western Antarctic Peninsula, one of the most rapidly warming areas on the planet, has risen 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the past half-century, delivering more snowfall that buries the rocks the Adélie penguins return to each spring to nest — and favoring penguins that can survive without ice and breed later, like gentoos, whose numbers have surged by 14,000 percent.

    The warmer climate on the Antarctic Peninsula has also upended the food chain, killing off the phytoplankton that grow under ice floes and the krill, a staple of the penguin diet, that eat them, by as much as 80 percent, according to a new study published this month in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    But in the Ross Sea a reverse trend is occurring: Winter sea ice cover is growing, and Adélie populations are actually thriving. The Cape Royds colony grew more than 10 percent every year, until 2001, when an iceberg roughly the size of Jamaica calved off the Ross Sea ice shelf and forced residents to move 70 kilometers north to find open water. (The iceberg broke up in 2006, and the colony of 1,400 breeding pairs is now recovering robustly.) Across Ross Island, the Adélie colony at Cape Crozier — one of the largest known, with an estimated 230,000 breeding pairs — has increased by about 20 percent."

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/10/science/10penguins.html

    All change is like that. Good for some species is bad for others.




  • Comment number 60.

    Oooops... here's the rest of my #56... thought some of it got cut off, and it did.

    "CR’s idea of ‘no fuel no fire’ is therefore misguided I think – with grassland and heathland the fuel is most definitely there every spring."

    OK. Try this. Burn it once. Then try to light it again a week later.

    Or burn it in spring (as was typically done) and light it again the next spring. Then wait ten years, do it again, and compare the resulting fire. Or, leave it for 20 years allowing more shrubby vegetation to grow on top of the grasslands and then light it. Again there is no fundamental difference. No fuel no fire.

    The key point is that in forest management the role of aboriginal burning has been downplayed or ignored and that is ignoring a major 'natural' part of that ecosystem. The problem for the ideological types is that accepting this means that they are also accepting the reality that aboriginal people were not some 'primitive' inconsequential force living in neutered harmony with nature - instead they were the dominant driving force shaping ecosystems. Thus that 'pristine wilderness' that some people want to compare everything to never existed EXCEPT where (mostly intertribal 'no man's lands') and when (smallpox etc) there were no hunter-gatherers.

    ALL the abundant wildlife that Lewis and Clark famously saw was in intertribal areas.

    P.S. Your #33 was... was... well, in my new 'nice' campaign after slightly losing it over the child exploitation issue, I will not comment on that. I'll just let you think about it and what a blog is. Sometimes children who can't get their way just grab their toys and go home. C'est la vie.

  • Comment number 61.

    58. Brunnen wrote that somebody started with this:

    "If climate change is drying out certain habitats..."

    To repeat the key point here. It is very hot and dry in the Sahara yet fires do not seem to be a problem there. No fuels no fires. No megafuels, no megafires.

    Why not invent new words? Happens all the time. Sometimes they fit better than existing words. Recently I have seen the term 'warmcold' quite often.

    Why not refer to blogs? Some do a good job of compiling information. The key is to understand that they are like a library. Each article/book must be judged on its own merits. If they posted a paper by Einstein would its quality depend on which blog it was posted on? No. The problem is that most websites have only a selection of 'books' that fit their view. So... And the worst ones are those that do not allow comments or are chronically dishonest.The best ones allow full comments which rip the articles apart. All the blogs I regularly visit do that.

    And 'news sources' are perhaps the least reliable sources of information... and the proof of that is everywhere.

  • Comment number 62.

    CR
    Thanks for the interesting and informed comments.
    Alas the time difference.... No time to add more - have to go out and enjoy the evening

  • Comment number 63.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 64.

    Update on my #27. First black bear of the spring in the field out back grazing on greens like a cow. They show up every spring to do that. This particular bear is a male that has been around for a few years and is very fat, as they had a bumper berry crop around here last fall. Expect to see some good cub crops this spring for that same reason. Fat fall females have more cubs. One way bear populations are naturally regulated by the quality of their habitat.

    Oh yes... fire. Must stay on topic. Fires in our forest types are fantastic for bears. Create superb feeding areas for berries, roots (for grizzlies) and later ants in the dead wood.

  • Comment number 65.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 66.

    Yet another bear this evening. Same place. This one was smaller and brown. Haven't seen him or perhaps her around here before. In our area about 10-20% of the black bears are brown.

    What does this have to do with fire? Hmmm... well Smokey was a bear.

  • Comment number 67.

    CR,

    I don't deny the role of pre-European humans in using fire to manage their environment; however, I doubt that the fire resistant nature of Ponderousa Pine evolved in the interval since humans first came into North America. In other words, fire was a natural part of the tree's environment thus making fire resistant bark an evolutionary advantage.

  • Comment number 68.

    We are not good at fire prevention at home, so need not expect to be able to make useful suggestions for the rest of the world. Look at forests anywhere in this country and see if the width of a fire break is anywhere near wide enough, or if it is clear of easily burned grass and shrub cover. The break should be much wider than the expected maximum height to which the trees could grow, so that a falling tree from a fire on one side of the break would not reach the other side and sparks would be less able to start the fire on the other side by jumping the gap. We may want the timber, so avoiding growth of fuel is not the preferred option. We need to be more willing to leave enough space, instead of trying to squeeze in the maximum number of trees within any boundary line. The best size (either area or linear separation) for limits between breaks is not easy to work out - any suggestions?

  • Comment number 69.

    re 68, Good point about the width of fire breaks. Maybe at the edges of breaks fire resistant plants can be grown.There seem to be a pretty wide variety of grasses, shrubs, trees etc that can hinder the progress of a fire, and perhaps add an extra level of protection around the firebreak
    One thing, off-topic before the old format disappears completely, to GeoffWard, re the songlist you posted up in another thread a few weeks back- I'd never heard of Antony & the Johnsons before, now have them on my Ipod, thank-you!

 

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