4 thoughts on “NASA weighs in on beetles and fire”

  1. I would bet that NASA could provide images that show the increase in the spread of lodgepole-dominated forests, as well as the encroachment of flammable forest types into fire-adapted ponderosa stands. It would also be nice if NASA could continue to update us on the precise amount of dead forest in public inventory.

  2. Andy, no one ever said that there were more fires in dead forests. The argument was that dead trees can make it more difficult for suppression folks to work and that dead trees close to the forest floor can have negative impacts on the soils.

    As I’ve said when scientists that are not regularly studying something (NASA) talk to it to their press folks, in hyping and trying to make the claim that “you should fund us because we are relevant” much technical accuracy can be lost. Of course, NASA may have looked at the number of greater than 7,000 square foot homes from the air, noted that the number hasn’t changed and then “science” would tell us that the recession was a myth…

    SA Satellites Reveal Surprising Connection Between Beetle Attacks, Wildfire

    If your summer travels have taken you across the Rocky Mountains, you’ve probably seen large swaths of reddish trees dotting otherwise green forests. While it may look like autumn has come early to the mountains, evergreen trees don’t change color with the seasons. The red trees are dying, the result of attacks by mountain pine beetles.

    Mountain pine beetles are native to western forests, and they have evolved with the trees they infest, such as lodgepole pine and whitebark pine trees. However, in the last decade, warmer temperatures have caused pine beetle numbers to skyrocket. Huge areas of red, dying forest now span from British Columbia through Colorado, and there’s no sign the outbreak is slowing in many areas.

    The affected regions are so large that NASA satellites, such as Landsat, can even detect areas of beetle-killed forest from space. Today, NASA has released a new video about how scientists can use Landsat satellite imagery to map these pine beetle outbreaks, and what impact the beetle damage might have on forest fire.

    • “Andy, no one ever said that there were more fires in dead forests.”

      Matt Jolly, a Research Ecologist with the Forest Service, disputes Romme’s idea of less flamability in beetle-kill stands. He says beetle kill trees will always be more flammable than green trees because they lack moisture everywhere: in their trunk, bark and needles.”

      Beetle-killed pine forest is more vulnerable to forest fires.”

      When pine beetles take over a forest, fire is typically not far behind, said Cal Wettstein, incident commander with the Rocky Mountain division of the Beetle Incident Management Organization.

      • Andy,

        Now I am not a fire ecologist, nor a fire behavior expert, but it seems to me that to get a fire, you need ignition (wait, maybe something is coming back from Guard School in 1980!). Those can be natural, as influenced by lightning strikes, or by people. Now the acreage that NASA is looking at is a function of a) ignitions, b) SUPPRESSION ACTIVITIES,c) vegetation condition d) fire weather, e) terrain and physical features. (and probably many other things that fire experts know about). Plus clearly suppression activities, vegetation conditions weather and terrain, and other things about location like convenient roads, are all intertwined.

        If you could control for everything else (and you can’t) then we could examine changed fire behavior in dead trees that are drier than live trees. I think there is something called “fuel moisture percent” that is used in fire behavior models because it is seen to be important.

        Changing fire behavior is not the same as saying “more frequent fires.”

        I don’t know exactly what Cal meant but it would be interesting to ask him.


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