More flooding, mudslides expected as wildfires run rampant: expert
The impact of wildfires on the environment can linger long after the flames have been extinguished, with consequences that can be dangerous and potentially devastating.
Environmental scientists have described the increase in wildfire activity as a new normal, as climate change warms the planet and helps stoke the fires.
With that new normal comes an associated increase in the long-term effects of the fires on their surrounding ecosystems.
“In the aftermath of a fire, we will probably see more floods, more potential for mudslides,” Blair Feltmate, the head of the Waterloo, Ont.-based Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation told CTV News Channel Tuesday.
Floods tend to follow forest fires because burned-out areas no longer have tree cover to deflect precipitation during times of heavy rainfall. When a storm hits, the water hits the ground with more intensity than it did before the fire – and the ground may not be able to absorb it all.
“As a result of that, we get floods or flash floods,” Feltmate said.
Water that doesn’t cause flooding could still impact the ecosystem, as it could find new paths into bodies of water, potentially “changing the whole dynamic of a river,” Feltmate said. Mudslides will also become more frequent, as soil of fire-hit areas no longer has the tree roots that typically hold it together during big storms.
Impacts on plants and animals
Feltmate said forest fires also create “substantial” impacts on living creatures, as they must find ways to adapt to the changed ecosystem in order to survive. As more wildfires break out, the number of ecosystems affected increases.
Merritt Turetsky, an ecologist at the University of Guelph, has found recent forest fires are more likely to scorch their entire area. In the past, she says, some patches of vegetation were more likely to survive wildfires.
“Now when we go in and survey these severely burned plots, we literally feel like we are walking on the moon,” she told The Canadian Press.
“The natural fire regime of wildfire is being tossed out of the window.”
Major temperature increase predicted
Feltmate recently spoke to members of a G20 climate group in Argentina. He said that while many countries are eager to do whatever they can to slow the spread of climate change, there is “very little” that can be done to stop it.
“Climate change is effectively a done deal. It’s here to stay,” he said.
“Countries will make their best efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to slow down the rate of climate change, but in terms of stopping it – that simply will not be the case.”
Feltmate’s research forecasts that maximum temperatures in southern Ontario, which currently top out at 37 C, will be closer to 44 C within 25 years.
The number of hot days in the region is expected to increase as well. Currently, southern Ontario sees approximately 20 days a year of temperatures above 30 C.
“By 2040, that will triple. That will go to about 60 to 65 days per season,” Feltmate said.
Northern parts of Canada are expected to see proportionately larger temperature increases over the same timeframe.
With files from The Canadian Press