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Climate change factors are causing big impacts in lots of national parks, but in years to come Yosemite National Park might literally feel the heat more than most. A recent study in the International Journal of Wildland Fire suggests that by 2049, the park could see a substantial increase in the frequency and severity of lightning-related fires.
According to the findings, the warming trend in Yosemite Valley poses a double threat: Hotter summers mean lots of dry kindling to fuel large fires, and warmer temps also mean depleted snowpack, which further dries out the landscape. In addition to this environmental double-whammy, the report suggests that higher CO2 in the atmosphere could lead to an increase in the frequency of lightning strikes.
The researchers looked at the correlation of snowpack, lightning strikes, and fires between the years of 1984 and 2005. In that time 1,870 fires burned over 190,000 acres. Using this data they found that the number of lightning-ignited fires exponentially increased during years of decreased spring snowpack. They also studied 23 years worth of satellite data to gauge the severity of the fires that took place during that time, and found that amount of landscape burned correlated to an increase in the severity of the burns, causing more damage.
Using scenarios outlined in a 2000 report by the International Panel on Climate Change, in which temps are projected to rise at least 1-2 degrees Celsius (possibly higher), the researchers came to the following conclusion: the number of lightning-ignited fires will increase 19.1 percent, and the annual area burned at high severity will increase 20.9 percent.
If all of this pans out, Yosemite is in for one major natural facelift. Pretty grim if you think about it, but on the upside, it looks like Smokey the Bear’s job security is in the bag.