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Down to Earth With: Wildfire meteorologist Craig Clements

Not many people are able to combine their work and hobbies the way Craig Clements, a meteorologist at San Jose State University in California, has. “I was always interested in mountain weather,” he says. “I got into meteorology through my interest in mountaineering and climbing.”

19 Jan 2018

A flammable planet: Fire finds its place in Earth history

For hundreds of millions of years, wildfires have shaped the planet, from the plants, animals and ecosystems around us to the air we breathe. Yet scientists are only beginning to understand the planet’s fiery past. 
16 Jan 2018

Western wildfires affect water quality

Wildfires have burned increasing acreage in recent decades, a trend that’s expected to continue with global climate change. In the U.S. West, the frequency of fires has implications for water availability — both water used to fight wildfires and municipal water supplies, which can be contaminated by loosened debris from eroding, fire-burned slopes.

09 Jan 2018

Benchmarks: October 8, 1871: The deadliest wildfire in American history incinerates Peshtigo, Wisconsin

On Oct. 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire burned through 900 hectares of the city, killing as many as 300 people and leaving another 100,000 homeless. More than 17,400 buildings were destroyed and financial losses totaled more than $200 million at the time (equivalent to $3.7 billion in 2016 dollars).

08 Oct 2017

Ancient wildfires suggest rising atmospheric oxygen helped end past ocean anoxia

Many times throughout Earth’s history, oxygen levels in the world’s oceans have decreased dramatically in episodes called oceanic anoxic events (OAEs), which have caused massive marine die-offs. In the Early Jurassic, for example, the Toarcian OAE has been linked with the extinction of many ammonite species and other sea life. However, how such episodes end remains largely unclear to scientists.

22 Aug 2017

Burning grass releases more nitrogen pollution than burning wood

Smoke from fires — whether from wildfires or from residential and agricultural grass and crop burning — carries pollutants into the air that affect climate and can be toxic to humans and ecosystems. According to new research, smoke from crop and grass fires appears to contain higher levels of some hazardous nitrogen-containing chemicals than wood fire smoke. The work also calls into question whether certain chemicals commonly used as distinctive signatures of biomass burning are still valid.

06 Feb 2017

Smokier U.S. West as climate changes

Extended wildfire seasons and larger and more frequent burns will likely be the consequence of the hotter and drier conditions expected to result from climate change. New research shows that this expected surge in wildfires also poses a growing threat to human health.

11 Dec 2016

Cave dripwater records wildfires

Water seeps through soil and bedrock before dripping from the roof of a cave and carries with it elements of the outside world and its climate history. That is why speleothems, cave structures formed via precipitation, can be studied as climate proxies. New research suggests that the chemistry of the cave dripwater can also contain the signature of wildfires that burned outside the cave, on the ground above the cave’s roof, yielding a more complex picture of the past.

27 Oct 2016

Firefighting gets a leg up from earthquake sensor networks

Seismic networks monitor ground motion in earthquake-prone regions like California and Nevada. Now, they may also help combat other natural hazards like wildfires, which are especially common in drought-stricken western states where parched landscapes create ideal conditions for fires to spread.

19 Aug 2016

Santa Ana winds get a fiery boost from the stratosphere

Southern California’s Santa Ana winds have long been implicated in the region’s dangerous and destructive wildfires. Now, a new study in Geophysical Research Letters points the finger at an accomplice: a phenomenon called stratospheric intrusions, which are natural atmospheric events that bring warm, dry air from the upper atmosphere down to the surface. These intrusions may exacerbate fires, as well as the region’s infamously bad air pollution.
23 Oct 2015