More big Yellowstone fires predicted with climate change
The size and frequency of wildfires in the northern Rocky Mountains will increase so much with global warming that it will profoundly alter the landscape of Yellowstone National Park and its environs, predicts a new study.
The conifer forests of spruce, pine and Douglas fir that grow at elevations from 6,000 to 8,000 feet could give way to open woodlands, grass and shrubs, transforming the greater Yellowstone ecosytem that includes parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
The large, severe wildfires that have historically occurred infrequently will grow more common as rising temperatures hasten spring snowmelt, lengthening the fire season and drying out the region’s mid-elevation forests. “It’s really by mid-century that it’s going to happen,” said the study’s lead author, UC Merced environmental engineering and geography professor Anthony Westerling.
Westerling and four coauthors examined climate and fire data from 1972-1999 and then used projections from three global climate models to predict wildfire trends for the rest of the century. The results were dramatic: The fire rotation — the amount of time it takes to burn an area the size of the entire landscape — would drop to 30 years or less from the historical 100 to 300 years.