Warming Seen as Lit Match in Northern Forests
Justin Gillis and Henry Fountain
The New York Times
May 10, 2016
Scientists have been warning for decades that climate change was a threat to the immense tracts of forest that ring the Northern Hemisphere, with rising temperatures, drying trees and earlier melting of snow contributing to a growing number of wildfires.
The near-destruction of a Canadian city last week by a fire that sent almost 90,000 people fleeing for their lives is grim proof that the threat to these vast stands of spruce and other resinous trees, collectively known as the boreal forest, is real. And scientists say a large-scale loss of the forest could have profound consequences for efforts to limit the damage from climate change.
In retrospect, it is clear that Fort McMurray, in northern Alberta, was particularly vulnerable as one of the largest human outposts in the boreal forest. But the destruction of patches of this forest by fire, as well as invasions by insects surviving warmer winters, has occurred throughout the hemisphere.
In Russia, about 70 million acres burned in 2012, new statistics suggest, much of that in isolated areas of Siberia. Alaska, home to most of the boreal forest in the United States, had its second-largest fire season on record in 2015, with 768 fires burning more than 5 million acres.