My inquiry question is: How should government funding be used for the prevention of wildfires? In my last round of research, I looked into the effects wildfires have on the surrounding water and soil of an affected area. This time, I will be researching the effects wildfires have on air quality and how it might be linked to climate change.
- Of course, everyone knows that we rely heavily upon plants and trees to purify the atmospheric air so we can breathe. They do so by taking in carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases and other air impurities, and then later releasing the oxygen we breathe in and require. When plants and trees are wiped out by wildfires, the quality of the air we breathe in drops and the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rises, which can lead to climate change and global warming (1, 2). Furthermore, all of the smoke caused by wildfires creates enormous air pollution (1, 3).
- Plants absorb carbon dioxide through miniscule pores in their leaves known as stomates, however they also lose water through those pores too whenever they open them. The higher the temperature is, the more water the plants lose, drying out the plants and therefore providing dryer fuels for wildfires to burn(4).
- Due to a warming climate, wildfire seasons are getting worse. Early snowmelts, rising temperatures and drier conditions are all factors causing wildfires to occur more frequently and last for longer periods of time (5, 6, 7, 8, 4). Research shows us that spring has been starting earlier and earlier in many different places, the beginning of spring being based on the time at which the snow melts and the vegetation begin to re-emerge (4).
- Due to the scarcity of small dead fuels like needles and grasses, short drying episodes do not generally make the conditions dry enough to sustain a fire in subalpine forests like the in Rocky Mountains. However, longer dry weather (approximately forty days without any precipitation) is able to sufficiently dry out live fuels and bigger dead fuels to sustain big, high-intensity wildfires once they have started (9).
- Because of the increase in wildfires, fine particle air pollution is rising as well (5, 6, 11, 12). Particulate matter (PM2.5) is a problematic type of air pollutant known to be detrimental to human health (5, 6, 12). These fine particulates are less than 2.5 microns in diameter (5, 6, 13), which is approximately one-thirtieth of a single strand of human hair (5).
- One way in which PM2.5 can be generated is by burning coal. Since today we burn much less coal for our energy compared to the past, there has been significantly less of this pollution (5, 11). Sulfur emissions (which come largely from coal-burning) have gone down (11), whereas carbon emissions (which come from fires) have gone up, especially during the summer (5, 11). That is, this particulate matter pollution has increased, notably in areas where wildfires are common (5, 11, 12).
- Therefore, years and years of work to diminish PM2.5 by putting regulations on burning fossil fuels have been undermined by the increasingly worse wildfire seasons, being made more severe by humans speeding up climate change from releasing tons of greenhouse gases which make the climate hotter and drier (5, 11).
- Unfortunately, wildfires and pollution are part of a vicious cycle (13, 4, 14). When wildfires burn, they are releasing carbon dioxide (5, 11, 10, 4) into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to the greenhouse gas effect. That is, these greenhouse gases cause more heat to be trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere (13). Subsequently, the drier conditions and rising temperatures from climate change are providing the perfect conditions for more frequent and severe wildfires to occur (5, 6, 7, 8, 11). Warming temperatures lead to more wildfires, which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which causes the temperatures to rise, and the cycle continues (13, 4, 14) …
That’s all for this round of research! In the next cycle, I plan to continue with this topic and start the cycle by researching how these wildfires can harm humans, including the impact the pollution fires create can have on human health, as well as perhaps how it affects their lives in terms of losing homes and even lives. Any ideas, comments or websites are appreciated. Thanks for reading!