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Science and Innovations

Study Quantifies Upward Trend in Southwest Wildfires

U.S. Forest Service, Coconino National Forest

A new studyfrom Northern Arizona University shows the area burned by wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico has increased by about twenty thousand acres annually since the mid-eighties. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

Scientists compared before-and-after satellite images of wildfires in forests and woodlands. They found upward trends in the frequency of wildfires, the number of acres burned overall, and the number of acres burned severely. Megan Singleton of Northern Arizona University is the lead author.

"We’re seeing a fire regime shift in ponderosa pine especially and more drier types of vegetation, and this gives managers a better idea of what’s going on in these ecosystems so they can manage them more appropriately in the future," Singleton says.

Wildfires worsened after the current drought began in the year 2000. Singleton says more research is needed on the links between fire and the Southwest's drying climate.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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