Extreme forest fires have doubled in the past 20 years around the world

The number and intensity of extreme forest fires, the most destructive and polluting, have more than doubled worldwide over the past 20 years, due to global warming due to human activity, according to a new study published Monday.

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Using satellite data, researchers studied nearly 3,000 wildfires with enormous “radiative power” – the amount of energy emitted by radiation – between 2003 and 2023 and found that their frequency had increased by a factor of 2 .2 during this period.

It is the temperate coniferous forests, particularly in the western United States, and the boreal forests, which cover Alaska, northern Canada and Russia, which are the most affected, with a frequency of such fires multiplied by 11 and 7 respectively.

Considering only the 20 most violent fires each year, their cumulative radiative power also more than doubled, at a rate that “appears to be accelerating,” according to the study published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The six most extreme years in wildfire intensity and frequency have occurred since 2017, the study found. Confirming the trend, it is the year 2023, the most recent, which experienced “the most extreme forest fire intensities” over the period studied.

These extreme fires are fueled by increasingly severe drought, a consequence of global warming.

During its growth, the forest cover absorbs CO2, but it returns en masse to the atmosphere when the vegetation burns, worsening global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, with these fires, “vast regions are crossed by the plume of smoke, which has significant effects on health and leads to many more premature deaths than the flames themselves,” underlines the study.

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