Thursday, June 25, 2015

Forget Drill, Baby, Drill (at least for now)

more like Burn, Baby, Burn.
What strange planet have I landed on??

NOT mushrooms in our local soccer field--but firefighters' tents. Many people have come up from the L48 to help (Thank you guys!!)
from AK Forestry on Twitter
...another great website of current fire distribution from UAFSMOKE:

There are about 300 individual wildfires burning in Alaska right now. Most of them started in the last few days, because we've had little rain and our main forest tree, besides birch, is spruce, aka the Christmas Tree.  We have literally millions of Christmas Trees in our forests, and if you've ever shoved a dried up old spruce into your fireplace after the holidays and watched it explode into flames, you understand what a vulnerable situation we're in right now.

Since about Sunday, the sun has been blood red, and casts no shadow, the air smells like campfire smoke and is really really---REALLY--hard to breathe. It gives you headaches, and not only that---some research suggests that inhaling air polluted by particulate matter in high concentrations can lead to chronic inflammation in the brain, and (shudder!) to dementia

Since I've moved to Alaska, I've never experienced such intensely unbreathable air. If this becomes the "new normal"--hot, dry summers and a long fire season until autumn rains clear the air--I don't know how much more of this I'll be able to take.


  1. Fire is a natural part of the boreal forest ecosystem. When I visited in 2001 there were similar fires. I asked a ranger why they did not fight the fires and they told me that the land was not valuable enough to justify the cost. I now know fire actually has many benefits. Certain wildlife actually requires periodic fire to thrive.

  2. Though true wildfires are important to the health of forest ecosystems, current consensus is that increased wildfires in Northern regions may act as positive feedbacks to climate warming by releasing carbon not only through combustion but also by burning off the insulative peat layers above permafrost soils makes these soils vulnerable to thaw and release ancient carbon and methane into the atmosphere.

  3. There is also a theory that returning boreal forest to steppe will increase reflectance reducing the impact of global warming. The thought being that snow covered plains reflects more sunlight than dark colored spruce trees. Frequently burned ecosystems also tend to capture carbon as charcoal instead of cycling it back to the atmosphere. Transition is often a messy process. Maybe the increased carbon release is due to a transitional state and the ecosystem will actually store carbon once it has stabilized in a new state.

    1. We know that feedbacks of living things drive climate. Photosynthetic plants changed the atmosphere (and cell metabolism) to depend on oxygen, but that took billions of years. Humans change things over much shorter timescales, and ecosystem responses to such rapid change are hard to predict.

    2. I completely agree with the overwhelming evidence of global warming and the much repeated observations of positive feedback from the melting of permafrost. I just do not think the natural boreal forest fire cycle should be compared to the release of greenhouse gases by humans. The boreal forest fires obviously release greenhouse gases, but these gases are recaptured when the forest regrows in a constant cycle. During the fire cycle carbon is actually sequestered in the soil in many ecosystems. The release of greenhouse gases by humans is so large that natural systems cannot recapture the carbon quickly enough to avoid catastrophic impacts. The cycling of greenhouse gases by the burning of boreal forests is simply not comparable to the releases of greenhouse gases by humans.