Tag Archives: wildfires

Fire retardant use explodes as worries about water, wildlife grow

Matt Weiser, KQED SCIENCE

In 2014, scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service published a study showing that two fire-retardant formulations are deadly to Chinook salmon, even when heavily diluted in streams.

Chemical fire retardants are considered a vital wildland firefighting tool, helping to slow the spread of flames while ground crews move into position. But as their use increases, the harmful side effects of these chemicals are coming under increasing scrutiny.

The chemicals, usually dropped from low-flying aircraft, largely consist of ammonia compounds, which are known toxins to fish and other aquatic life. Studies have shown retardants can kill fish, alter soil chemistry, feed harmful algae blooms and even encourage the spread of invasive plants. Yet there is little regulation of their use, and no safer alternatives on the market.

In California, state firefighting crews have applied 15.3 million gallons of chemical fire retardants so far this year, according to data provided by CalFire, the state’s wildland firefighting agency. That’s a new record, and double the amount used just three years ago.

CalFire applied 2.7 million gallons of retardant in a single one-week period starting October 9 – also a record. Of that amount, about 2 million gallons were used on the North Bay wildfires, which killed 43 people and burned more than 8,000 structures in October as they swept across several counties north of the San Francisco Bay Area, including Sonoma and Napa.

Read more at: Fire Retardant Use Explodes as Worries About Water, Wildlife Grow | KQED Science

Filed under Water

Close to Home: What new climate report says. It’s urgent

Carl Mears, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Carl Mears is lead author for the Climate Science Special report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I, U.S. Global Change research Program

As was recently reported in The Press Democrat, the U.S. government recently released the first volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. As one of the 51 authors of the report, (and the only one from the private sector), I was relieved that there was no political interference in the writing and editing process. The report accurately represents the conclusions of the expert scientists on the writing team.

The report is 477 pages of fairly technical reading, so I doubt that most people are ready to read it cover to cover. But I can summarize it in just three sentences:

— Global warming is happening now.

— It’s caused by human activities, mostly emission of carbon dioxide.

— And the consequences are beginning now

— and becoming increasingly serious as the warming continues.

These statements are not the personal opinions of the writing team. Every “key finding” in the report is defended by a “traceable account” that describes the scientific reports we read and synthesized to reach that conclusion.

Since this column is titled “Close to Home,” I thought I’d highlight several new findings that are of special concern to Californians and residents of Sonoma County.

Our report is the first to address sea level rise while considering troubling new results about the stability of ice sheets in Antarctica. By 2100, the expected range of sea level rise is between one and four feet. But because we do not know exactly how the ice in Antarctica will respond to warming oceans, a sea level rise of eight feet cannot be ruled out. This amount of sea level rise would flood a lot of low-lying land around the San Francisco Bay, including significant parts of downtown Petaluma.

Much of California depends on the Sierra snowpack to store water. New, more advanced climate models are able to predict the state of the spring time snow in the Sierra. Unless we begin to curtail carbon dioxide emissions soon, warming temperatures will lead to rising snow levels and more wintertime precipitation will fall as rain in the Sierra Nevada. Under the assumption of continued high carbon dioxide emission, the snow levels increase by more than 1,000 feet, leaving much of the mountain region north of Interstate 80 snow free at the end of the winter.

The water that should flow down the rivers in July and August comes much earlier in the year, threatening vital infrastructure such as dams and levees and reducing the amount stored for summer use.

Another consequence of warming temperature is the drying of soil and vegetation during our long, dry summers. Last month’s tragic fires bring the threat of wildfire to the forefront of our attention.

Because of dryer summer conditions, and the large swaths of dead trees killed by the warmer, more stressful climate, our report concluded that wildfires will increase over the entire western United States, a trend that has already been measured in almost every region of the West.

Drier conditions will also increase the need for irrigation, even as our state’s capacity to store water is reduced by the dwindling snowpack.

So, what should people do with this information?

Get informed and involved with organizations that work on policy solutions. While personal commitments such as riding your bike to work are good, they must also be supported by deeper systemic changes to our energy system. These changes cannot be achieved by individuals acting in isolation.

Read more at: Close to Home: What new climate report says. It’s urgent

Filed under Climate Change & Energy