Monday, June 26, 2017

What's the real connection between Droughts & Wildfires ?

"There are three things that are never satisfied. There are really four that never say, ‘I’ve had enough!’  These things are the cemetery, the childless mother, the land that never gets enough rain, and Fire that never says, ‘I’ve had enough!’  
Proverbs 30:15-16 (International Children's Bible)
David McNew / Getty Images

I used a children's simplified wording in the above text to help readers understand what was written centuries ago was not only true back then, but even more so today. It describes a reality of certain realities in lifes faced by human beings which are inescapable. You don't even have to accept the bible to agree with what is clearly stated. The common grave of mankind is always hungry and never satisfied for more occupants. Child barreness would be a welcome circumstance to those obsessed with scientific population control by means of eugenics. In a later text at Luke 23:29, a future time of distress is foretold, and the “barren women” it states would be happy, relieved, not having the anguish of seeing their children suffer. I suppose that would be true of our times. Today drought and lack of rain are plaguing many lands all around the globe and the problem is growing and growing as if it's never satisfied. And of course we are experiencing a time of extreme wildfire which is worse today than at any time in the past and fire's hunger (figuratively speaking) seems to never be satisfied. But focussing on the last two subjects, drought (land with no rain) & wildfire, is there really a connection ? Wow, who knew ? Earlier this year, Jennifer Balch, a wildfire ecologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and other researchers published findings that 84% of wildfires are now started by humans as opposed to natural causes (lightning, volcanoes, etc). But wait, it gets worse folks. They also emphatically said this:
"In California, the eastern United States, and the coastal Northwest, people are behind more than 90% of wildfires. And, by starting so many fires, humans are essentially lengthening the fire season, into times of the year when natural causes—such as lightning—don’t play a major role."
Really, the West Coast (California, Oregon, Washington & British Columbia) is at 90% human caused wildfires ??? 😕
Science Magazine: "Who is starting all those wildfires? We are"
During these past four or five years, the world's fire ecology experts have been making connections between these furious wildfires and severe droughts which they insist are making wildfires even worse. Droughts can occur in any climate, whether it's hot or cold, dry or humid. So is that true or false ? Yup, it's true. Same thing is true of wildfires. But have you ever noticed in the literature when these two words are almost always surgically linked together by the fire ecologists, that the word "Drought" almost always preceeds the other word "Wildfire" ? The idea conveyed here being that the droughts are responsible for causing the extreme wildfire events we experience today. But you might be interested to know that surprisingly the words should really be in the reverse. Some of NASA's latest research finds that it is most likely the wildfires and diliberate prescribed burning that have helped to bring on the droughts. On the surface, to average folks it might seem only logical that the higher temperatures & lack of rainfall brought on by climate change are expected to increase the amount of moisture that evaporates from land, vegetation and lakes (basically sucking everything dry), which would also cause rainfall patterns to shift to more drought conditions. Hot temperatures coupled with dry conditions would also seem to increase the likelihood of more extreme wildfires. But now the reverse seems to be the cause and folks should not be surprised. Earlier this year,  January 2017, some researchers from NASA provided proof that it's the Wildfires, especially those whose origin has a human causasation are responsible for less rainfall, hotter temperatures & Climate Change. 
"A periodic temperature shift in the Atlantic Ocean, known as the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation, plays a role, as does overgrazing, which reduces vegetative cover, and therefore the ability of the soil to retain moisture. By replacing vegetative cover’s moist soil, which contributes water vapor to the atmosphere to help generate rainfall, with bare, shiny desert soil that merely reflects sunlight directly back into space, the capacity for rainfall is diminished."  
"Another human-caused culprit is biomass burning, as herders burn land to stimulate grass growth, and farmers burn the landscape to convert terrain into farming land and to get rid of unwanted biomass after the harvest season."
Now this I have found fascinating, the idea of herders burning the land to stimulate grass growth to increase grazing productivity for harvesting the animals for food. Where have we heard this before ? One of the major justifications often cited for prescribed burns is that the ecological Native Americans (considered by many experts as the original environmentalist) burned the landscape to create better grazing for animals they made a living off of. But in view of the new information we've received from NASA, are we to believe this was still a good thing environmentally in view of the consequences referenced below as we continue reading ?
As with overgrazing, fires dry out the soil and stymie the convection that brings rainfall. Small particles called aerosols that are released into the air by smoke may also reduce the likelihood of rainfall. This can happen because water vapor in the atmosphere condenses on certain types and sizes of aerosols called cloud condensation nuclei to form clouds; when enough water vapor accumulates, rain droplets are formed. But have too many aerosols and the water vapor is spread out more diffusely to the point where rain droplets don’t materialize."  

Yup, even in the Earth's great oceans, microscopic organisms, along with other organic particles and salt, are thrown into the atmosphere every time an ocean wave breaks. Identifying the chemical composition of sea spray sheds light on how there is an  ocean-cloud connection, and how ocean biology may impact how clouds form and the climate. So too with the natural volatile organic compounds given off by vegetation. Disrupt any of the natural components which enrich our atmosphere with organic compound particles which act as nuclei for water molecules to form droplets and we get less rainfall and more drought. That apparently is what too much fire does.
For example, in years that had more than average burning during the dry season, measurements of soil moisture, evaporation and vegetation greenness—all of which help to trigger rain—decreased in the following wet season. Even within dry seasons, the amount of water decreased in areas with more humid climates as the burning became more severe.  

Illustration -

Back during the early 1980s in the San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California when we had the heavy winter rainfall seasons caused by the El Niño & Hawaian Pineapple Express moist wind jet stream, I noticed that cloud formation during the following Summer's monsoon season was exceptionally heavy and complete. The main reason was heavy moist ground sturation on the surface from winter storms which lasted for months. It was a very green period where nothing turned brown or dry. After this time with normal or drier winters, summer monsoon cloud formation was more isolated as opposed to solid formation over all land mass. The areas where cloud formation was consistent had to do with an untouched area from development and contained old growth vegetation whether it was forest trees or solid old growth chaparral shrubs. The fragrance of aerosol release was also more powerful in those areas as well. Knowing what we do about aerosol importance as a nuclei particle for droplet formation, it makes perfect sense how mechanical or wildfire removal of such natural biological mechanism would stifle cloud formation and rainfall and if large enough effect, create droughts. If enough localized and regional droughts around the globe come together, then we get climate change. But in all the ideological debates we are fed out there by Climate Change champions, almost no one mentions what the NASA folks have provided here as evidence for climate change. Such information just never seems to be mainstream, but always on the fringes. It's much more sexy talking about factories and Coal/Oil in order to score some political points against one's political enemies, than telling the truth by providing a more complete picture of the present situation.
“The removal of vegetal cover through burning would likely increase water runoff when it rains, potentially reducing their water retention capacity and invariably the soil moisture,” Ichoku said. “The resulting farming would likely deplete rather than conserve the residual moisture, and in some cases, may even require irrigation. Therefore, such land cover conversions can potentially exacerbate the drought.”
NASA Study Finds a Connection Between Wildfires and Drought

Illustration -

The illustration above has been adapted from Luiz E. O. C. Aragão's, “The rainforest’s Water Pump” which teaches us that like many ecosystems where much of the rainfall over tropical forests comes from water vapour that is carried by the atmosphere from elsewhere like oceans and falls over land during the rainy season, there is also a large component of mositure which is ‘recycled’ after the rainy season has passed. During what would normally be the dry season, rainwater is pumped by trees from soil into the atmosphere through evapotranspiration. This water exits the forest trees as evapotranspirated vapour infused with aerosols are pumped into the atmosphere where cloud formation is able to take place and again fall as rain in monsoonal thunderstorms. So the water sources does not necessarily have to come from oceans, but rather the land itself. The atmospheric transport of water vapour into the forest is balanced by the exit of water in the form of vapour and run-off. It has been discovered that the world's present mechanized deforestation reduces this important evapotranspiration and inhibits this water recycling. This decreases the amount of moisture carried away by the atmosphere, reducing rainfall in regions to which the moisture is transported. Decreasing evapotranspiration also leads to increase localized run-off and raises river water levels which increases water loss back to the seas.

Some of us (like me for example) generally take certain things for granted until some excellent responsible research comes along and shakes us out of our soft warm and fuzzy blanket comfort zone of ignorance. I always thought drought made fires worse and climate change makes droughts worse. But clearly (& this makes total sense) humans have brought on the very the climate disruptions and severe drought conditions through their incessant agricultural burning (not to mention the stupidity factor in causing wildfires) and irresponsible land stewardship in general that are the result of healthy old growth vegetation removal. BTW, for a long time now, many trees in the western United States have been putting most of their resources into defensive measures to just survive. Very little offensive strategy has been employed into putting available resources into the production of seeds. But that's the way it is with any organism. When times are good for food & water, then we have population explosions. When times are bad, it's all about survival. Oddly enough regions further north have been experiencing what has happened in Southern California since the 1990s. I used to collect seed and back in the late 90s, many pine nuts were hollow.  In recent years researchers have noticed after most of these major fires, very little in the way of pine seedling reappearances were observed after these fires.
Colorado's wildfire-stricken forests showing limited recovery

Image - University of Colorado Boulder
“It is alarming, but we were not surprised by the results given what you see when you hike through these areas,” said Rother, who earned her doctorate from CU Boulder in 2015 and works as a fire ecologist at Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, Florida.   
Among the most barren sites were those of the 2000 Walker Ranch fire in Boulder County and the 2000 Bobcat Gulch fire in Larimer County, where approximately 80 percent of plots surveyed contained no new young trees.   
“This should be a wake-up call, that under the warming trends associated with human-caused climate change, significant shifts in forest extent and vegetation types are already occurring,” said Veblen. “We are seeing the initiation of a retreat of forests to higher elevations.”   
Previous research has suggested that hotter, more severe fires make it harder for the forest to bounce back by killing mature trees and reducing seed stock. But the study found that even after lower-intensity fires, presumed to have had less effect on mature trees and seed stock, seedlings were still scarce. Hotter, drier areas at lower elevations or on south-facing slopes had the fewest seedlings.

animated image -
The prevailing paradigm in fire ecology within the Scientific Orthodoxy reminds me of those evil stepsisters from the story of Cinderella where they tried cutting their toes off to fit in that Prince's glass slipper. They insist their narrative version must be true despite what the data says to the contrary. As a general rule, what data they do present for their case is often theory ladened, which means that any claimed observations have been inffected by the theoretical presuppositions held by the fire ecology investigator. There's no shaking the blind faith of a determined fire ecologist who insists life evolved in such and such a way through it's Creator fire or that fire is a kind of hallowed tool used by Indians (Native Americans) who are often considered the ultimate in ecosystem conservation. Facts are Native indigenous peoples of the past and their descendents today were and still are equal in every way to the Europeans they first encountered. This includes not only the capacity for love and goodness, but also the inherited tendency towards flaws and imperfection common to every human on the planet. Yes they used fire. A few may have used it as a type of conservation tool, but they had no more control over it than we do now. There is evidence that they also misused and abused fire for war against their bitter enemies (other Natives, not white men), used fire for hunting down prey chasing 100s of them over a cliff at a time, unattended campfires etc. They also used it for agriculture on a smaller scale which brought about localized or regional droughts centuries ago which doomed some ancient empires in Central and South America (Nazca, Maya & Aztecs). Now take a look below at some satellite photos of cloud formation which clearly exists because of the presence of healthy vegetation, no matter what the plant community ecosystem it is. But seriously, note where and over what the clouds form. Trees & Shrubs!

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The photo above is Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. This at one time was a true desert (in the true sense) island with almost most no vegetation other than some mosses, lichens, ferns, and small annuals and/or perennials. I reprinted parts of an article about Ascension Island which came out in 2013 by journalist, Fred Pearce, from Yale Environment 360, where he wrote about how a true desert island was basically transformed by19th cebtury British Sailors who brought in plants for gardens and escaped into the wild and by a Bristish Colonial Botanist, Sir Joseph Hooker, who wanted to actually terraform the island and infuence the increase for rain which was almost zero and provided no water supply. That's all changed now as rainstorms come in and even heavy clouds of mist precipitation provide water for natural ponds and streams.

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Incredibly, not everyone has been pleased with this islands amazing transformation. The political activist environmental group, Center for Biological Diversity, is strongly opposed to such terraforming because the claim of invasive plants taking over and destroying the tiny native ferns and lichens would be wiped out. This has been proven false. I have kept in contact with the island's conservation officer, Stedson Stroud, who has provided photographs of these rare ferns and lichens actually doing much better by growing on the braches and trunks of this non-native vegetation. The non-native have created a healthier environment which has caused such specimens to grow bigger than they did previously on the desert island environment. People on this planet are going to start questioning who and what so-called non-profit organizations they are putting their trust and money into. Here are two links for which I have written about this remarkable island and it's turn around which has valuable climate change solution teaching lessons for us.
Climate Change and Ascension Island
Ascension Island's Green Mountain Cloud Forest Created by Mist ?

NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens

Image - Yann Arthus-Bertrand 

Orinoco River near the Esmeralda, Amazonas region, Venezuela

Image: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC
The various aerial and satellite images over the past couple of years have fascinated me as to how vegetative land surfaces encourare cloud formation as opposed to bare land or even seas. The picture above shows cloud formation over forest, but not the river. The picture to the right shows cloud formation over these Indonesian islands, but not the surrounding sea. Back in the 1980's a brazilian physicist, Eneas Salati, proved that the rainfall in the Amazon had consequences that are felt across the globe. Only 20–30 % of the rainfall actually stays in the region. Mostly, it evaporates back to the air to be carried by currents to regions such as the Andes, the Atlantic, and the South Atlantic towards South-Africa through phenomena such as cloud formation. If you've followed the news over the past few years, countries bordering Brazil have lost rainfall because of the forest deforestation which has resulted in the dismantling of these cloud formation mechanisms. When large areas are deforested or the forest becomes fragmented, the system of cloud formation breaks down. Put simply, no cloud formation, no rainfall, no rainforest or any other type of vegetated ecosystem.

Some more interesting references:
Science Direct: "Anthropocene" - The significance of land-atmosphere interactions in the Earth system—iLEAPS achievements and perspectives
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory: "Born by Bubbles, Destined for Clouds"

Then there's always that one anomalous Ponderosa Pine discovery somewhere out in Nature observed giving live birth to a Sapling that throws all those sacred Fire Ecology Paradigms out the window & into a tailspin
Image - Jennifer DeMente

Okay I'm only kidding 😆

I'm not exactly keen on this obsession with celebrating fire or justifying it because the Indians (Native Americans or other non-white indigenous peoples) did it. Like modern humans today, they may have responsibly used some fire, but they also misused and abused it which makes them equal to human beings today. I was corrected by a scientist when I referenced my sadness about what has happened with all the human caused fires throughout the mountains surrounding Tucson Arizona. Her response was puzzling as she parroted the modern day secular religious paradigm of all fires being natural. This planet is clearly in trouble if the present failed leadership continues.
Burn Baby Burn - Fire Ecologist Celebrate Fire Season

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