The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Nature is not a Luxury



These satellite images were taken four hours apart yesterday.




For those reading from overseas, perhaps you haven't heard. It is looking very serious in southern California.

Much of San Diego is being evacuated. Like the fires in Greece a few weeks ago, this is certainly due to drought and to land management policies, and arguably attributable in part to anthropogenic global climate change.

Resilience Science
links to a fascinating chart of Southwestern drought as measured by water level in Lake mead.

The LA Times has excellent reporting along with some remarkable reader-contributed pictures which I can't resist posting:









Update 10/25: Tamino has interesting things to say about this. Among his other comments he points to some evidence that increasing wildfires have a significant climate change causation:
Just last year Westerlin et al. 2006, Science, 313, 940-943, DOI:10.1126/science.1128834 reported the results of a study of wildfire activity in the western U.S. Here’s the abstract:

Western United States forest wildfire activity is widely thought to have increased in recent decades, yet neither the extent of recent changes nor the degree to which climate may be driving regional changes in wildfire has been systematically documented. Much of the public and scientific discussion of changes in western United States wildfire has focused instead on the effects of 19th and 20th-century land-use history. We compiled a comprehensive database of large wildfires in western United States forests since 1970 and compared it with hydroclimatic and land-surface data. Here, we show that large wildfire activity increased suddenly and markedly in the mid-1980s, with higher large-wildfire frequency, longer wildfire durations, and longer wildfire seasons. The greatest increases occurred in mid-elevation, Northern Rockies forests, where land-use histories have relatively little effect on fire risks and are strongly associated with increased spring and summer temperatures and an earlier spring snowmelt.



Update 10/25: Satellite visible channel movie of smoke plumes over three days.

1 comment:

Dano said...

Wow. I did a bike tour a few years ago down the coast in a similar fire season. South of Cambria, IIRC, there was a huge field of firefighter's tents, seemingly thousands of them, spread out over acres. The light was right and I got some great pix, and turning to the east the fire was clearly visible along the ridges.

Anyway, that ecosystem attracts fire and is supremely adapted to it. Yet we build our houses in it. I spent an enjoyable few weeks in the field down there collecting data to determine a data point about an adaptation made by the chamise to attract fire to eliminate competition and utilize nitrogen released from fire.

Anyway, to clarify your 'land management practices', that we build in fire-prone land is our flawed land management practice. Trouble is, these types of landscapes are inherently attractive to humans and command a pretty penny to acquire and build upon.

Best,

D