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)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lost Pines, Yesterday

11 comments:

Andy F said...

It's amazing more people are not caught by that.

Aaron said...

When did the climate models forecast that Texas would fist have it 1 in 10,000 year heat wave?

Is Texas warming and drying somewhat ahead of the climate models?

If CO2 levels have been rising since before 1900, could rising CO2 have been a factor in the 1956 Texas drought? We know that by 1952 global warming was occurring, so there must have been some impact on water in Texas.

Pangolin said...

Aaron_ Deep in the esoterica of Climate Change theory it becomes clear that simple plowed land agriculture and controlled burns for pasture improvement started anthropogenic climate change thousands of years ago.

The current trend is AGW on steroids.

If those trees get some rain in the next month or so a surprising number of them will survive. It looks bad now but the land does heal after fires.

guthrie said...

That's what, 5 or 6km an hour? (Say a minute to do 100m or so?)

Scary. Could cut off your escape route in ten minutes. Although I suppose it varies locally depending on fuel and wind speed.

Doug said...

A litany of eye-popping statistics over at Texas Climate News, including:

"Since Nov. 15 more than 3.5 million acres have burned in Texas, breaking the all-time record of 2.1 million acres for the same period set back in 2005-2006."

and

"Six of the 10 largest wildfires in Texas history occurred in 2011."

SCM said...

I feel for you folks in Texas. We've had some pretty bad wildfires ourselves here in Victoria Australia in recent years, with many deaths in 2009. Friends of ours also lost their home in the Canberra bushfires a few years back.

However, to some extent fires are part of the ecosystem here so many Aussie plants thrive after a fire and gum trees have adaptations to survive all but the very worst fires.

I was imagining the Pines area would not recover so well so I was heartened to see Pangolin's comments - I hope there is (enough but not too much) rain coming your way soon to help the land recover. We're on the other end of La Nina here so its been wet the last 18months which has kept the fires down for a while.

Good luck I hope the fires are over soon.

Jim Bouldin said...

Doug, those are probably records only for the modern period and they're confounded by the effects of fire suppression and landscape continuity changes, which greatly affect fire sizes. There could have had some whoppers before the modern era.

Doug said...

Jim, your point about historic records versus prehistoric events may well be true, though we're here now so naturally we're more concerned about the present era. Presumably the prehistoric record of fires in the region could be retrieved to some degree from scrutiny of soil cross sections.

As to "effects of fire suppression" there's a bucket that's becoming a bit crowded, in the sense that every time we see a conflagration of this kind, we hear that we've caused it by extinguishing fires that ought to have happened in the normal course of affairs. That's a hypothesis that should go in the same class as "was this a climate driven event, or purely a weather event?"

Have fires been actually been extinguished in the affected area? Has there been a buildup of fuel due to those suppression efforts? What do we actually know about this situation? "We're suppressing many fires" is too squishy to warrant complacency or comfort.

In any case, what we're seeing here is relatively open woodland going up in flames, along with the intensely dry litter on the forest floor, apparently mingled continuously with various forms of development. It's hard to see how allowing a fire to burn "naturally" in this context is going to be functional.

Pangolin said...

Our local native american population in California are very clear that spring and fall burns of grass and brush to encourage oak and seed pines were standard occurrences.

I would suppose whatever natives there were in Texas would have a variant of that practice suitable to the game and forage of the location. I doubt there were no "controlled" burns since it's a standard game management technique of hunter-gatherer and nomadic cultures.

We just don't know what the regime was.

Michael Tobis said...

Little is known about the indigenous tribes, who got mixed up with Spaniards and Mexicans and horses and priests very early in history. I do have a book on the subject which I haven't cracked.

I will venture to say that Texas was always very lightly populated, and there are far more signs of indigenous populations in New Mexico than here.

It is also probably worth noting that the Bastrop area is an ecological outlier in this vicinity, so what local tribes there were probably had little use for it.

Jim Bouldin said...

Doug, I'm not arguing for letting this thing burn without control. Nor do I know what the historic fire regime or landscape pattern was in central Texas. I'm just saying the historical record is limited wrt making statements about uniqueness of events.

You can find many places where the effects of land management, and ignition sources, are indeed still the major driving factor in the current fire regime. Fire was a more ubiquitous and forceful player in prehistory than most people recognize. However, nobody should just say that it's the only one--especially in situations like this one where the drying is truly extreme and out of the norm, and there is certainly a definite climatic element.