Fires intensifying climate change

Forest fires are becoming more frequent and intense.

The forest fire feedback cycle

Higher global temperaturesMore heat & drought & longer fire seasons
More carbon dioxide in the airMore forest fires

The “forest fire feedback cycle” can escalate global heating. When this self-amplifying feedback is dominant:

  • higher global temperatures cause
  • more heat and drought, causing
  • more forest fires, causing
  • more carbon dioxide in the air because fires
    • release carbon dioxide during the fire, &
    • reduce photosynthesis after fires, causing
  • higher global temperatures.

Extreme fires

We are seeing an alarming surge in mega-fires which destroy ecosystems that have thrived with fire for millennia. They burned with such intensity that they burned the trees and the forest floor so the forest has not regenerated. These fires have transformed whole forests into entirely different landscapes.
Earth on Fire
(ABC TV: Catalyst: 3 June 2014)

I never thought I’d see the Australian rainforest burning. What will it take for us to wake up to the climate crisis? (The Guardian: 10 Sep 2019)

Wildfires can now happen throughout the year in the UK.
(New Scientist: 23 April 2019)

NASA Studies How Arctic Wildfires Change the World
(NASA: 13 August 2019)

Fires in Tasmania’s ancient forests are a warning for all of us.
(The Conversation: 29 January 2019)

The era of mega-fires: the crisis facing California and what will happen next
(The Guardian: 8 August 2018)

Huge wildfires in the Arctic and the far North send a planetary warning
(The Conversation: 14 August 2019)

Greek wildfires: dry winter and strong winds led to tinderbox conditions
(The Guardian: 25 July 2018)

Forests are becoming less able to bounce back from fires
(New Scientist: 11 March 2019)

The forest fire feedback cycle is reversible

This forest fire feedback can run in reverse: by radically expanding forests, we can draw down carbon dioxide and reduce extreme heat, drought, and fire. It’s one way to reduce the impact of climate change. We need to expand forests before drought and fires become too dominant.

Self-amplifying feedback cycles and our climate

Updated 28 March 2022