Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Fire Next Time? Is THIS a Glimpse of the Future?

I awakened just after 5 this morning, coughing with my eyes burning from the smoke from the Waldo Canyon wild fire on the west side of Colorado Springs. It took me several minutes to get my breath, and then realize I had to get some respite from the smoke-laden atmosphere of the house. Thus, I went up the road for a lengthy breakfast in an air-conditioned Burger King. (Note: closing the windows is not an option with the repeated 98-99 degree temperatures, and our only source of cooling - an evaporative cooler- depends on at least one window being open to disperse the cool air.)

After moving from Maryland in 2000, we soon realized that unlike that state, air conditioning for homes was a rarity in Colorado. Most residents simply assumed - based on earlier climate patterns - summers would be moderate and light breezes would suffice to cool off open homes. This concept and expectation was in for a wake up call in 2002 when prolonged heat struck most of the state and the Haymans Fire alerted us to the possibility of monster wildfires in our future. But few could believe that such a state with so much scenic beauty (and the mountains were one reason we moved here) could fall repeatedly to such depredations.

But this year's wildfires taking over much of the state - whether through flames or smoke - is an illustration that we were likely wrong. Indeed, an NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration) projection given in 2002 forecast the American West would see extended drought, hotter weather and fire conditions into the near and distant future ...on account of climate change-global warming.

This take was revived in a March 14, 2009, Washington Post article entitled: Pace of Climate Change Exceeds Estimates, wherein one read- quoting Christopher Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, addressing the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

"Fires such as the recent deadly blazes in southern Australia have increased in recent years, and that trend is expected to continue. Warmer weather, earlier snowmelt, drought and beetle infestations facilitated by warmer climates are all contributing to the rising number of fires linked to climate change. Across large swaths of the United States and Canada, bark beetles have killed many mature trees, making forests more flammable. And tropical rain forests that were not susceptible to forest fires in the past are likely to become drier as temperatures rise, growing more vulnerable.'

The beetle referenced is the 'mountain pine beetle' a variant of the bark beetle species. What it does is nothing short of horrendous, in converting living plant tissue into highly flammable dead bark for which the slightest spark can start a conflagration. Those readers interested in a detailed account of the trepidations of this pest can get hold of the superb book: The Dying of the Trees.  You can read a shorter account here:

The point is the beetle is a major catalyst for all the ongoing and uncontained Colorado wild fires, including the nearby Waldo Canyon fire which last evening burst back into violence after a thermal current whipped winds to over 65 mph. It then sent flames bursting into the west side Mountain Shadows neighborhood, burning homes and forcing the evacuation of 32, 000.  The thermal currents and winds also dispersed parts of the fire's burgeoning smoke plumes eastward, toward the east side of Colorado Springs where we live. You can see assorted images from last night here:

The combination of culprits cited by Christopher Field above portends many more years of extended heat, and wild fires. Indeed, as global warming ramps up (and bear in mind all these wildfires across the West are also discharging even more megatons of  CO2 into the atmosphere to increase the thermal blanket) we can expect to see prolonged triple digit temperatures (103- 110F) feeding even more violent fires. A fictional book that actually forecast raging fires as an accompaniment of a world in the throes of global warming was Heat.   Other events it forecast were massive red algal blooms (red tides) along the Gulf coast and the death of millions of fish, as well as plagues of exotic, once tropical diseases (e.g. dengue fever) and extended downpours in the east accompanied by bouts of blistering hot days that down power grids .....because of over use.

As I noted to my wife yesterday evening as we watched the news in horror, with motorists trying to escape the monstrous flames towering over the I 25, we have seen the future already and it doesn't look encouraging. (Added to this depressing event and the constant smoke other personal bad news I didn't really need but received yesterday: that a 2nd PSA test actually showed another increase to 6.1 over the 5.6 three months ago. I am now about to take another ('free PSA') test which is a superior discriminator to the absolute test. I will keep readers posted on what transpires...including the nature of any treatments (if any) I need to undergo.

Meanwhile, I am just trying to cope with lots of smoky air!


Mike said...

Sorry to hear about the PSA test. I hope the problem can get resolved. The future is really starting to look apocalyptic. Here's a blunt question. Do you think mankind will become extinct by the end of this century?

Copernicus said...

Hi Mike, and thanks for your sympathy re: the psa. I am still trying to think positively and that I will get a result I like for the fPsa test tomorrow! We will see.

I don't think humans will become extinct by the end of this century....but I think the lives of the lot of humanity (probably not the cossetted 1%) will be tales of woe, endless suffering and struggle. Many people will feel so despondent they will just want to give up the ghost rather than endure never ending struggle each day for: clean water, edible food, energy sources....and trying to keep cool.

If the runaway greenhouse effect is incepted, as it may be, it will still take some years to crank up to full devastating impact. So while mankind may not become extinct by the end of this century, there's a 50-50 chance it may by the end of the next.

Thanks again for your comment!