After a large-scale bush or forest fire, the disaster for people and animals in the area usually does not end: when it rains, there is a risk of mudslides because the broken plants can no longer withstand. However, if there is no precipitation, there is also a risk of losing the substrate, As a global analysis of fires and their consequences by a working group led by Yan Yu of Peking University appears in Nature Geoscience..
Yu and Co evaluated data from 150,000 wildfires between 2003 and 2021. They used satellite data to track the extent of the fires, soil moisture and vegetation cover, and airborne aerosol levels for up to two months after the actual event. More than 90 percent of the fires assessed resulted in a significant reduction in vegetation: it wasn’t just light surface fires that consumed dried grass and broken branches in bushes, but left trees standing. Instead, they destroyed vegetation in all areas.
This had consequences. Because within the next two months, larger dust storms developed in these areas, resulting in increased aerosol content in the air due to ash or windblown soil. Then it usually takes days to weeks for the concentration of particles in the atmosphere to decrease again. After the devastating bushfires in Australia in 2019/20, for example, the amount of particles in the air doubled compared to the long-term average.
Particularly affected were the savannah regions, where half of the observed dust storms occurred. The stronger and more extensive the fires, and the more severe the drought before the fire, the more violent the dust storms. The researchers also noted that the number and intensity of these events increased significantly during the observation period, which they attribute to increased wildfires and more frequent droughts as a result of climate change.
Dust storms exacerbate health problems for the residents of the burning areas. Scientists estimate that between 10,000 and 100,000 people could die prematurely each year from inhaling bushfire smoke.
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