Forest fires are a danger in many places in the world. But, even when comparing similar forests, North America's fires are still stronger, hotter, smokier, and faster than fires elsewhere. Why? The answer is hidden deep in the forests themselves.
Researchers from the Woods Hole Research Center recently undertook a large-scale survey of forest fires, comparing North American forest fires with their high-latitude counterparts in Europe and Asia using satellite and ground observations, as well as computer simulations. What they found were not only more intense fires in the North American forests — but also more destructive ones, as demonstrated in this fire map they put together:
In North America, the dominant tree species tend to be "fire embracers." That is, the life cycles of the forests have evolved to sustain nearly complete burns (crown fires) and to quickly re-colonize an area after a fire. North American forests tend to have more black spruce, white spruce, and jack pine—species with branches lower to the ground, thinner bark, and pine cones that open up after being burned by fire. On the other hand, Eurasian forests have more species that resist fire with thicker bark, moister needles, and fewer low-hanging branches.
You can check out the full paper over at Nature Geoscience.
Top image: Canyon Creek Fire by National Interagency Fire Center, Map via NASA Earth Observatory