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Efforts To Limit Global Temperature Rise May Not Be Enough To Slow Western Wildfires


In 2015 hundreds of countries signed on to the Paris Agreement, where they committed to working to limit global average temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius or no more than 2 degrees Celsius.

USU’s Dr. Simon Wang and his PhD Student Matthew LaPlante, along with a team of other researchers, ran simulations to understand what these two scenarios mean in terms of global weather and wildfires. A change of 1.5 or 2 degrees seems small but it can have big impacts on our planet.


Wang and LaPlante were surprised to see that limiting temperature increases to either of these levels may not matter for the Western US fire regimes. 


“I think one of the things that was troubling for me about the findings in the study was that, to some extent, it appears that the threshold for extreme fire weather has already been that in the western United States. And even if we hold warming to 1.5 degrees, it, it might not make a difference, because we've already met that threshold,” LaPlante said.


“And it's really not good news, the action means that we have pushed our fire season to another different category,” Wang said.


Their findings from running these simulations show that the abnormally harsh fire seasons we have seen in the West, could become the new normal in other areas as warming continues. 


“I think one of the important findings of this analysis is that what we are seeing in the western United States, we will potentially be seeing in other places in the world to where the fire season is much longer,” LaPlante said. “And the risk for extreme Fire Weather is much higher. And so California won't be an outlier. It will be one of many regions that look like that.”


The researchers note that these projections of 1.5 or 2 degrees are best-case scenarios if emissions are reduced and the Paris Agreement levels are met. 


“What this analysis shows is that even if we meet our best-case scenario goals,” LaPlante said, “we still have a world that will be rapidly changing with each half degree increment of warming and we need to start preparing for that.”


Matthew LaPlante is a UPR contributor as the host of Undisciplined.