An American research led by John Calder, a doctoral student at the University of Wyoming's Department of Geology and Geophysics, studied charcoal deposits from 12 different lakes in the state. These lakes surround northern Colorado's Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
The team discovered that various parts of the area were destroyed by wildfires during the Medieval Warm Period (MWP). This period dates back 1,000 years ago and lasted 300 years when North America started to experience a significant rise in temperature.
The research found that the recent temperature increase is almost similar to that of MWP, which led to many of the most notable wildfires in the nation's history. Since the catastrophic 1988 wildfires in Yellowstone National Park, data showed an increased frequency of wildfires in western America.
"Using Yellowstone fire history as a baseline for comparison, our minimum estimate of 50 percent of (Mount Zirkel) sites burned within a century at the beginning of the MWP exceeds any century-scale estimate of Yellowstone burning for the past 750 years," the research read.
Tracing the wildfire evidence in the last 2,000 years, the areas burnt down by large wildfires seemed to happen only a few times. The findings suggest that wildfires of such magnitude used to be infrequent. The researchers fear that the increase in areas burned by wildfires in recent years is directly proportional to the risk of individual landscapes succumbing to the temperature rise if the warming trend continues.
The findings suggest that even the slightest change in regional warming can cause potentially large wildfires, added Calder. The team found that the Rocky Mountain region has an amplified temperature rise of 1.25 degrees in the last century. If the temperature rise persists, wildfires can also rise to catastrophic proportions.
In September 2015, a report from the United States Forest Service showed that the recent years have seen longer fire seasons. The extension can be traced to the increased frequency and severity of recent wildfires.
The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal on Oct. 5, 2015. It was co-written by University of Wyoming researchers and with Gonzalo Jimenez-Moreno of the University of Granada in Spain.
Photo: Hans Braxmeier