Source: National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/nfn.htm
For comparison, the 2015 fire area burned almost equals Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island combined, or an area larger than Switzerland.
Most acres burned in Alaska, a total of 5,146,541 acres or almost 51% of those reported. A Nasa image from September 1, 2015 reveals the scars.
The trend for increasing acreage torched is even more pronounced from 1,323,666 in 1983 to 10,125,149 in 2015 - a 764% increase in 32 years.
So what does this mean?
It means we have experienced millions of tons of black carbon or soot, CO2 and methane being released into the atmosphere from US fires alone, which added to the acceleration of warming in the near and distant future.
We have experienced more forest and tundra being changed from carbon sinks into sources for green house gases.
More permafrost is being exposed to warming in future years as peat rich soils are scorched away. The Alaskan fires are becoming more severe. A 2011 article, “Recent Acceleration of Biomass Burning and Carbon Losses in Alaskan Forests and Peatlands” in Nature Geoscience, stated the implications well.
“Soil carbon losses will increase dramatically if warming continues to affect the thawing of permafrost, exposing deeper carbon pools to rapid loss through burning,” they wrote. “In turn, deeper burning events are likely to further accelerate permafrost degradation, potentially triggering a positive feedback between permafrost thaw and severe fire activity. Such feedback has significant implications for greenhouse gas emissions in northern regions.” Source: Frequent, Severe Fires Turn Alaskan Forests into a Carbon Production Line, http://www.mtu.edu/news/stories/2011/february/frequent-severe-fires-turn-alaskan-forests-into-carbon-production-line.html
This is only part of the global forest fires trend of adding to the natural sourced increases in CO2 and CH4 release. See: Climate-induced variations in global wildfire danger from 1979 to 2013, Nature Communications, July 14, 2015: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150714/ncomms8537/full/ncomms8537.html#f2
National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/nfn.htm
Alaska Interagency Coordination Center - Alaska Acres Burned: http://fire.ak.blm.gov/content/aicc/sitreport/current.pdf
US State sizes in acres: http://www.statemaster.com/graph/geo_lan_acr_tot-geography-land-acreage-total
Country Sizes in Sq Km: http://world.bymap.org/LandArea.html
|Total Wildland Fires and Acres (1960-2015)|
|Figures prior to 1983 may be revised as NICC verifies historical data.|