Here are 3 main causes of wildfires, and 3 ways to prevent them

We're in an era of 'megafires'.

What causes wildfires and how can we prevent them?
Brett Hemmings/Getty Images

A headline that reads 'The Worst Year in History for Wildfires' should be a shocking and dramatic statement. Instead, it's in danger of becoming a cliché, a well-worn phrase, an annual event.


The year 2020 will be defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, but wildfires in Australia, Brazil and the US have reached new levels of destruction.

"We're not only seeing ever-increasing fires year after year. We're also seeing more fires over a larger geographical spread. And we're also seeing a longer period. Our fire season used to be just two months of the year 15 years ago and now it's nine months of the year." said Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, speaking at the Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2020.

Climate catastrophe

"It's increasingly clear that, as we have launched this effort around a trillion trees, we're also in an era of megafires," said Justin Adams, Executive Director, Tropical Forest Alliance, at the World Economic Forum.

For Jennifer Morris, the Chief Executive Officer of the Nature Conservancy, the California wildfires are a microcosm of a global crisis affecting forests.

Morris said decision-makers must address a range of challenges to save the forests and the communities that rely on them.

"How do we fund prevention rather than always deal with the next worst year?" she asked. "How do we make sure that forests are able to realize their total benefits through reforestation?

"How do we get farmers and forest owners from the US to Brazil and Australia to actually receive income for protecting the forests?"

A World in Flames

For Jad Daley, President and Executive Director of American Forests, there are three main causes of wildfires - and he's in no doubt about the biggest one of all.

"Make no mistake, climate change is driving this dramatic increase in wildfires and future wildfire risk ... so, we can't solve our wildfire crisis without addressing climate change," he said.

Secondly, Daley called for more active forestry management to address issues such as a lack of water and drier weather which create the conditions for fires to break out and then burn out of control.

Thirdly, instead of restoring forests, he talked about the need to "pre-store" our forests for a changing climate, using science like a crystal ball to understand how conditions will develop in the future.

Hilary Franz also called for more funding to help her teams fight wildfires more effectively, saying hot air alone had never put out a fire. At present, her airborne firefighting crews are flying helicopters that saw active service in the Viet Nam war.

"I focus on three things," she said. "The first is wildfire protection resources ... At the federal level we borrow a number of resources from other states and federal governments. But when we have California, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming all on fire at the same time, we don't have any more resources to borrow. The second prong is forest health ... and the third is community resilience."

The barriers to protecting the world's forests are entrenched and significant. It will need political will, commitment from forest communities and the right resources in the right places to make progress.

The World Economic Forum's 1t.org aims to conserve, restore and grow a trillion trees before the end of this decade, partly to reforest areas of woodland destroyed by wildfires.

The one trillion trees initiative aims to enable the kind of partnerships that will lead to a reduction in wildfires and more sustainable forests.

Reprinted with permission of the World Economic Forum. Read the original article.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

Videos
  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
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