Global climate change has impacted our planet in a variety of ways. One of these impacts has been the increased intensity and frequency of wildfires, which we have experienced in America’s Southwest.
New Mexico and Arizona are states that are particularly vulnerable to the occurrence of fire, for a variety of reasons. For starters, the Southwest region has been home to prolonged drought for several years. The Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) monitors the dryness or wetness of an area, where the Southwestern region receives the lowest score (or, in other words, is in extreme drought). geochange.er.usgs.gov/sw/impacts/biology/fires_drought/
above: A chart depicting the PDSI of the United States
The rise of global temperature has altered the timing of snowmelt. In cases where snowpack has melted relatively early, fires have been larger, and more extreme. This is because moisture from the snow is virtually lost by the time summer begins. http://www.southwestclimatechange.org/feature-article/fire
The Southwest region’s average temperature has increased by 2-5 degrees within the past century (http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/07/the-southwests-forests-may-never-recover-from-megafires/277545/). By 2050, trees will be under more stress than ever before, due to lost moisture within the hot summer months. The lost moisture within organic material will directly impact bird species, who depend on moist leaves and twigs to keep their nests intact.
It is quite possible that the increased occurrence of Wildfires will eradicate and endanger species of flora and fauna that are unique to the Southwest. In fact, animals like the Mt. Graham Red Squirrel and Mexican Spotted Owl are already in critical danger. Their natural habitat is located within the forested mountain ranges of New Mexico and Arizona, which were home to 2011’s horrific summer Wildfire season. The occurrence of these fires has killed large numbers of the Mt. Graham Red Squirrel and Mexican Spotted Owl, destroying their habitat in the process.
above: a Mexican Spotted Owl
Climate change is a serious issue that has impacted our common home. If such change continues, the American Southwest will continue to suffer from destructive Wildfires. The Rise of Wildfires will prolong severe drought, destroy ecosystems, and threaten biodiversity within the Desert Southwest.