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USGS: Warmer climate leads to spike in forest fires

Digital writers

Thursday, July 25, 2013, 6:25 PM -

Climate change can worsen droughts and fires, leading to more tree deaths, a new study by the USGS has announced.

"There is a lot of research showing that climate change is already increasing wildfire frequency and fire spread," said lead author Phillip van Mantgem, in a statement.

"But what this study shows is that there is an additional risk to warming trends — namely that trees already stressed by drought may be more likely to die from fires." 

Researchers looked at more than 7,000 conifer trees in  Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah between 1984 to 2005, and discovered that tree deaths spiked when warm temperatures lengthened summer drought.

"Our results imply that if current warming trends continue, we can expect to see more frequent tree deaths following fire, which can lead to substantial changes in forests," says van Mantgem.

"Such changes could ultimately affect habitat suitability for wildlife species, aggravate erosion and increase the amounts of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from fires." 

Researchers hope the findings will provide insight into forest fire mitigation and warrant further study.

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