Researchers Study Link Between Climate, Wildfires

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – Scientists from universities in Montana, Colorado and Idaho announced Wednesday the start of a 5-year, $3.85 million research project into how a changing climate will influence wildfires.

The project is being pursued in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and researchers in Australia and New Zealand. The goal is to identify how human activities and climate change drive fires.

“One thing is clear: The frequency and severity of fires have increased around the world and this is considered to be one of the signs of global climate change,” Montana State University professor Cathy Whitlock, the lead investigator for the project, said in a statement.

Warmer temperatures can worsen droughts, dry out forests and encourage the proliferation of beetles and other pests that kill trees, creating fuel for more intense fires.

Faculty from the University of Colorado, the University of Idaho and researchers from the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station will participate in the study.

The work will include studying lake sediments for insights into fires, climate and vegetation changes, using computer models to study fire behaviors in areas with different types of vegetation and looking at tree ring records to gauge historic fire frequency.

The team will collaborate with researchers at the University of Tasmania, Australian National University, the University of Aukland and Landcare Research NZ.

Whitlock said by looking at fire from an international framework, researchers hope to improve models for predicting fires and their effects.

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