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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Forest Fire Threatens to Sweep Yosemite National Park, California.

HISTORY IN THE NEWS

Dedicated to the background of contemporary events around the world. 


The Environment



IN BRIEF:  The frequency of forest fires may have increased, but the most severe in terms of acres consumed and lives lost happened over a century ago.
 
IN THE NEWS:  YOSEMITE PARK, SIERRA NEVADA CALIFORNIA WILDFIRE HAS CONSUMED 282 SQUARE MILES OF FOREST. '"If you look at the Sierra Nevada as a whole, by far the largest portion hasn't seen a fire since the 1910s and 1920s, which is very unnatural," said Hugh Stafford, an ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service in California., who has authored several papers on the increasing wildlife severity across California's mountain ranges. "This one isn't stopping for a while." Since a 1988 fire impacted nearly one third of Yellowstone National Park, forestry officials have begun rethinking suppression policies.' (AP)

THE FACTS: 

-the worst forest fires on record are well in the past: massive bush fires like the Great Peshtigo Fire in Michigan and the Matheson Fire, in Ontario -fires which burned over a million acres and killed over 200- are all before 1917.
-as to whether an increase in forest fires is caused by climate change, the facts are always a matter of debate. One opinion in 2011: 'Fires in the 1960's and 1970's charred about 1 million hectares of land in each year. “So it's already doubled in the last 40 years...and we've published work that shows this is directly due to human caused climate change,” says Dr. Flannigan, Professor with the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta and Canadian Forest Service researcher.'




IN HISTORY:

1050-1200- Wildfires typically occurred during periods of increased temperature and drought. An increase in fire-related debris flow in alluvial fans of northeastern Yellowstone National Park was linked to the period between AD 1050 and 1200, coinciding with the Medieval Warm Period. (Wikipedia)
1825- Miramichi NB, Canada- forest fire kills 160.
1871- Oct- Peshtigo, Michigan- The single worst wild fire in U.S. history, in both size and fatalities, is known as the Great Peshtigo Fire which burned 3.8 million acres (5,938 square miles) and killed at least 1,500 in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the week of October 8-14, 1871.
1983- Ash Wednesday forest fires in Australia kill 1/2 million livestock and 76 people.
2007- summer- Greece- 3,000 fires burned 670,000 acres (1,046 square miles) in Greece, burning down 2,100 structures and killing 84 people.
2009- Feb-March- Black Saturday bush fires kill  173 in Victoria, Australia.

RELEVANT DATES for wildfire in Yosemite Natural Park.

The present Holocene Period Begins with the Late Peleolithic Age.
15,000 BC–present Global Warming begins.
-plains begin to give way to forests.

Iron Age.
1000 BC- temperatures decline. Rainfall increases.
850 BC- 1660 AD- while many fires occurred during severe drought conditions, an increase in the number of fires during 850 BC and 1660 AD can be attributed to human influence. (Wikipedia)
1 AD- 1750- Charcoal evidence from the Americas suggested a general decrease in wildfires between 1 AD and 1750 compared to previous years. (Wikipedia) 

Medieval Warm Periods.
1000- warming trend begins.
1050-1200- Wildfires typically occurred during periods of increased temperature and drought. An increase in fire-related debris flow in alluvial fans of northeastern Yellowstone National Park was linked to the period between AD 1050 and 1200, coinciding with the Medieval Warm Period. (Wikipedia)

Warming returns very slowly after Little Ice Age.
1750-1800- cold springs, warm autumns in Europe.
1750-1870-  a period of increased wildfire frequency between 1750 and 1870 was suggested by charcoal data from North America and Asia, attributed to human population growth and influences such as land clearing practices. (Wikipedia)

 The Industrial Revolution.
1825- Miramichi NB, Canada- forest fire kills 160. 
1849-1905- major drought in Arizona.
1851 -wilderness conservation gets its first boost in the U.S. when a great tree "the Mother of the Forest" is cut down to a storm of protest which leads in turn to the inauguration of the a national parks system.

The Great Peshtigo Fire.
1871- Oct- Peshtigo, Michigan- The single worst wild fire in U.S. history, in both size and fatalities, is known as the Great Peshtigo Fire which burned 3.8 million acres (5,938 square miles) and killed at least 1,500 in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the week of October 8-14, 1871.
1881- the Thumb forest fire in Michigan burns 1 million acres.
1894- Hinckley Forest Fire, Minnesota destroys 418.acres and kills 282.
1910- forest fire burns 3 million acres in Idaho and Montana, leaving 86 dead.

Matheson, Ontario Forest Fire.
1916- Matheson forest fire- Ontario, Canada- kills 244.

Australia's 1939 Black Friday Bush Fire.
1939- Victoria, Australia, Black Friday bush fire kills 71
1953- Mendocino Park Forest fire kills 15 firefighters in California
1960-1970- Fires in the 1960's and 1970's charred about 1 million hectares of land in each year. “So it's already doubled in the last 40 years (2011)...and we've published work that shows this is directly due to human caused climate change,” says Dr. Flannigan, Professor with the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta and Canadian Forest Service researcher.
1967-Tasmanian bush fires kill 62.
1983- Ash Wednesday forest fires in Australia kill 1/2 million livestock and 76 people.
1988- fire destroys one third of Yellowstone National Park.
1998- 2,200 forest fires in Florida require evacuation of 80,000.
2000- U.S.- summer of forest forest throughout US burns about 7.2 million acres.
2003- Siberia- taiga forests- one day in June satellites recorded 157 fires burning 27,181,000 acres (42,470 square miles) simultaneously.
2003- July 30- Kamloops, McLure forestfire started by careless tossing of a cigarette- destroyed 72 homes.
2003- Oct- devastating cedar forest fires burn 800,000 acres in California.
2006- forest fires and drought in western Canada.
2006- Jan-March- wildfires throughout the US southern plains.
2007- summer- Greece- 3,000 fires burned 670,000 acres (1,046 square miles) in Greece, burning down 2,100 structures and killing 84 people.
2007-  Severe forest fores in southern California, wiping out residential areas in Malibu and San Diego.
2009- Jan-Feb-forest fires in southern Victoria kill more than 200.
2009- Feb-March- Black Saturday bush fires kill  173 in Victoria, Australia.
2010- Dec.- wildfires in northern Israel kill 40.
2011- May- Slave Lake Wildfire, Alberta leaves 750 homeless. 
2011- June- The Wallow Fire in Arizona and New Mexico -the largest in history for the southwestern United States with over 788 square miles (504,409 acres) charred so far, far surpassing the Rodeo-Chediski fire of 2002. It is now probably in the top ten largest single wild fires in U.S history (2011-
http://www.wunderground.com/blog/weatherhistorian/the-worst-wild-fires-in-world-history)
2011- Fires in the 1960's and 1970's charred about 1 million hectares of land in each year. “So it's already doubled in the last 40 years...and we've published work that shows this is directly due to human caused climate change,” says Dr. Flannigan, Professor with the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta and Canadian Forest Service researcher.
2012- March- A mild, dry winter prompted the Alberta government to start the wildfire season a full month earlier than usual. The season would be long and disastrous, as several fires flared up across the Canadian and U.S. West. The U.S. endured a near-record amount of destruction, as nine million acres (an area roughly the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut) burned.
2013- June- forest fores kill a  crew of 19 elite firefighters in Arizona.



TIMELINE FOR THE HISTORY OF CLIMATE CHANGE

-with thanks, among others, to: http://www.aip.org/history/climate/timeline.htm
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/a-climate-change-timeline/article4294575/



15,000 BC- 1200 AD: In the long geological record, our own time is called the Holocene and began as the Last Ice Age started to draw to a close, about 15,000 BC. Within that larger scale, there commenced a long period of global warming that continues today; and clearly the original causes of this 17,000 year period of warming were natural, while the causes of its present extension and acceleration are not. (Large scale climate changes usually last about 10,000 years- we may prove the exception). As glaciers and the polar caps receded, sea levels rose at about a meter per century until about 5,000 BC. Human progress moved more rapidly taking a leap forward in the "Bolling Warm Period" in northern Europe, a four-century time of intense development in hunting, crafts and other skills from about 12,200 BC to 11,800 BC but still associated with the 'Mesolithic' or 'Middle Stone Age' period. Rising water levels produced the present arrangement of continents, with Australia cut off from Southeast Asia, England separated from continental Europe, and the cutting of the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska. Further warming, favourable to the beginnings of civilization, a period known as 'the Atlantic Optimum' brought permanent human settlement in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East in abo0ut 9,000 BC and regular farming by about 7,000 BC. A so-called 'golden age' of climate followed with the 'Holocene Maximim' , a 'Neolithic' or 'Copper Age' period when ideally warm conditions may have produced the agricultural 'Garden of Eden' myths found in several cultures. Tropical growth along the Arabian Sea and relatively humid conditions in the Sahara are typical of this period. Agriculture improved along with climate and the Bronze Age European Danubian people of 4,000 BC imported grains from the Middle East, which wouldn't have survived before that time. At this point, the natural "greenhouse gases" CO2 , CH4 and nitreous oxide increased to safe levels which would remain the same until modern, pre-industrial times. The optimum exceeded itself in Mesopotamia where drought wiped out much of the population about 2000 BC. In contrast to this early 'optimum' there began a cooling and increase in rainfall known as the 'pessimum' of the Iron age around 1000 BC, descending to an especially cold wave in 450 BC during the expansion of ancient Greece. By 250 BC, the rise of Rome was qualified by a decline in rainfall which caused wheat cultivation to be replaced by vineyards and olive groves. By 170 BC, when wetter conditions had returned, so much of the Italian peninsula was taken up by vineyards and olive groves that grain had to be imported to Rome from Egypt. Far to the east, a drying out of the steppe caused Asian tribes to shift westward around 450 AD and eventually to invade the Roman Empire. We must remember that these 'pessimums' and 'optimums' are oscillations within the larger and more gradual warming that we still experience and which began about 15,000 BC. And sometimes, even, they are only local events. The next warming began around 1000 AD and reached a balmy 'optimum' around 1150 AD in Europe, although it's difficult to generalize for the rest of the globe. The 'optimum' was short-lived, for a serious European cooling, known as the 'Pessimum of the Modern Age' began about 1200. This would give way to Europe's 'Little Ice Age'.


1200-2008: By the middle of the thirteenth century, the 'Little Ice Age' had begun in Europe and glaciers were growing again. Late in the century, a continent away, in the American south-west, blistering drought drove native Americans southward. The pessimum in Europe, meanwhile, would continue with variations, for five hundred years, into the 19th century. There is some irony in the fact that within the larger, more gradual Holocene warming that continues today, the largest single trend may have been this long period of cooling. After 1300, glaciers expanded quickly, temperatures dropped and rainfall increased. Fishing replaced the growing of grain in Iceland. The "Little Ice Age" was at its worst between 1400 and1700. Rivers began to freeze over in winter where they had not done so before. The 17th century was a history of cruel winters, crop failures, famine. Glaciers extended farther than ever down mountain valleys. The nadir was reached at the end of the century. In 1697 one third of the population of Finland was killed by famine. Glaciers reached their maximum extent in 1710. Cold springs and cool, wet summers characterized the 18th century in Europe. The 'flour war' of 1775 in the Paris region erupted among farmers suffering crop failures. The continuing 'Little Ice Age' had its role in sparking the French Revolution: in 1788, a year before the fall of the Bastille, the French grain crop was destroyed by hail, causing drastic food shortages. The summer of 1816 proved the worst on record when famine followed frosts in July. The Little Ice age then relented and drew to a close in the middle of the 19th century. Glaciers began their retreat in 1856. The warming was extremely gradual, though, staggered dramatically in 1883 by the gigantic eruption of Mount Krakatoa in Indonesia, whose clouds of ash dimmed and cooled the atmosphere the world over. In 1892 the first theory in global warming caused by man-made C02 increases was advanced by the Swedish scientist, Arrhenius. In the early 20th century, a warming of the North Atlantic increased the growing 'optimum' in Europe. There was a slower warming in the Middle East and south Asia. In sub-tropical regions there were fewer cyclones, less rainfall and arid regions expanded. In China and Russia, political genocide conspired with periodic drought to cause massive famines. The 1930s saw the first warming of the Arctic though it stopped around 1940 to resume again in 1970. In 1949 the British scientist Callendar, made the first provable links between C02 increases and global warming trends from the 19th into the 20th centuries. In 1966 there was famine in India. The oscillations of the 20th century are rather frequent, providing a more complex picture. 1942 to 1953 was a balmy, mild optimum followed by a cooling trend until 1980. Afterward, the present trend toward hotter temperatures began. A 1985 conference of the United Nations Environmental Program and the World Meteorological Organization established the first scientific consensus on global warming. There was widespread agreement that greenhouse gases caused by increased human economic activity, especially the use of fossil fuels, was affecting weather patterns. Since 1988, the International Panel on Climate Change and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has worked toward getting coordinated international action on greenhouse gas reductions. 1990, meawhile, was the hottest year, globally, on record. In 2001, the Kyoto protocol was signed by 178 countries- a commitment to reducing greenhouse gases which has since begun to unravel due to disgreements about the need for fossil-fuel based industries to maintain the lifestyle of rich nations and raise the living standars of poor nations. Recently, the heating of the atmosphere has caused record numbers of cyclones and hurricanes, particularly in the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. One of the worst was Hurricane Katrina which more or less destroyed New Orleans, killing at least a thousand in 2005. In 2007 to 2008, heavy rainfall, mudslides, disastrous flooding, raging forest fires, freak cold spells and and massive snowfalls have been attributed to the disruption of natural weather patterns by the Greenhouse Effect.

200 Million BC- 15,000 BC: From 200 million to about 2 million years ago, the world, still cooling from its creation in the Big bang, was much warmer than it is now. In the Cretaceous period, beginning about 100 million years ago, the earth was hot, about 6 to 8 degrees above present temperatures. C02 levels were much higher than now, significant changes in C02 being detectable over spans of 1 million years. (As Thomas J. Crowley writes in Remembrance of Things Past: Greenhouse Lessons from the Geologic Record, “Barring a radical change in the manner in which energy is utilized in the future, continued depletion of the fossil fuel reservoir in the next few centuries could result in levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases that are comparable to the warm time period of the Cretaceous.”) The Cretaceous is the age of the first global cooling. But at the end of that period, around 65 million BC, there was still tropical vegetation and the presence of dinosaurs near today's Arctic Circle. The dinosaurs became extinct around that time and in 53 million BC, the Eocene, of the Age of the Mammals began and early primates and tropical vegetation still flourished in the north regions. After the Miocene, beginning about 25 million BC, the Pilocene saw the emergence of Homo Erectus and the old Stone Age, with temperatures still warmer in 1 million BC than they are today. Several ice ages followed before the Last Ice Age of about 100,000 BC, in our Middle Stone Age. CO2 , CH4, and nitreous oxide, commonly known as green-house gases, were at low levels. Low sea levels associated with global cooling allowed human migrations across land bridges from Southeast Asia to Australia and from Asia across the Bering Strait to North America. The ice age reached its coldest point around 20,000 BC. Humans survived using new technologies involving fire, animal skins and methods of building. The Last Ice Age drew to a close around 15,000 BC.



CROSS-CENTURY SUMMARY: Since its formation, the earth has been cooling, with periods of warming separated by ice ages along the way. The last 17,000 years or 'Holocene' period, the 'age of man' has been a time of warming since the end of the last ice age. But the warming part of the cycle has been distorted by artificially produced greenhouses gases, in addition to the earth's natural C02. The Holocene is only a sliver of the entire life of the earth but if indeed C02 emissions prolong this last warm period and the cycle of ice ages has come to an end, man will have changed the environment forever, and likely for the worse.

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