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Brain Food: The Relationship Between Pine Forests In Greece And The Southwestern U.S.

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The black pine forests of the Mediterranean are ecologically similar to the ponderosa pine forests of the Southwest...right down to their susceptibility to massive forest fires.

Pete Fule' is a fire ecologist at Northern Arizona University. He's been invited by the European Union to study the black pine forests in Greece to see if climate change might be causing larger, more intense fires like those in the Southwest. Fule' says, "In 2007, there were enormous forest fires in Greece, so in the satellite image you can see the smoke going out into the Mediterranean and large areas being burned. So, the question we were asking was whether this mega fire in 2007 was really an unusual event and whether it was connected in some way to the changing climate, or whether there was evidence of similar kinds of events in the past."

Using tree ring samples and fire scar analysis, Fule' - along with researchers from the Universities of Athens and Cyprus - found a consistent pattern of forest fires over time. But, their research shows the intensity and size of the fires have changed. "The evidence isn't perfect because we don't fully understand the forest structure and the fuels over this time period," Fule says. He adds, "But, we do know that the fire regime of surface fires had continued for about 150 years, and in that time period - even though fires had continued - it was only in the last 2 fire events which were the warmest and the driest that we had these mega fire-type events."

Fule's  research is being used throughout the scientific community to understand how forest fires may react in future climates. With this information, they'll be able to model and predict not only the impacts to forest ecosystems, but to human communities and global economies, as well.