This is probably the most appropriate blog I have ever written. My family and I were evacuated two weeks ago because of the Jesusita fire in Santa Barbara, and several homes in our neighborhood were lost. Here in Santa Barbara we have experienced multiple years of extremely large fires, with this last one occurring much earlier than previous fires.
Wildfires have been a part of the Earth’s biota likely since organisms first died and dried on land. Ecosystems have been shaped by fire, numerous organisms have evolved strategies to cope with fire and human cultural development has close tied to fire. In a recent review paper in Science by David Bowman, Jennifer Balch and colleagues, they asked the question: how have fires changed and what does the future look like? Human activities are changing fire patterns and climate change may be entering a feedback with fire. Global warming has been linked to increases in extreme fire weather, making large, destructive fires more probable. However, these large fires feedback into this loop because they release compounds that have strong greenhouse effects. Further, smoke plumes inhibit cloud formation, reinforcing the dry conditions that lead to the fires in the first place.
They argue that fire needs to be incorporating into models of climate change and especially those that link ecosystem properties climate change. Fire may change the distribution of specific habitat types beyond that predicting by responses to climate change alone.
Bowman, D., Balch, J., Artaxo, P., Bond, W., Carlson, J., Cochrane, M., D'Antonio, C., DeFries, R., Doyle, J., Harrison, S., Johnston, F., Keeley, J., Krawchuk, M., Kull, C., Marston, J., Moritz, M., Prentice, I., Roos, C., Scott, A., Swetnam, T., van der Werf, G., & Pyne, S. (2009). Fire in the Earth System Science, 324 (5926), 481-484 DOI: 10.1126/science.1163886