Wildfires — the fires caused by several natural and anthropogenic reasons that burn our natural ecosystem — leave a mark on our planet. Not just the deterioration of the organisms living inside the forests, but wildfires also affect the environment immensely.
We all had heard the term wildfires before. The environment and its biotic and abiotic components suffer a lot when it happens. Some worst wildfires cases shown in the past include the yearlong (2019–2020) bushfire in Kangaroo Island that has burned about 38% of the entire island.
Another remarkable example of wildfires is Brazil’s rainforest wildfires that happened in 2020. Douglas Morton — the chief of NASA’s biosphere science laboratory —explained that the number of wildfires cases increased to 23% in 2020 compared to the 2019 bushfire event.
All this evidence shows the increasing scenes of wildfires. Moreover, it enlightens us about the criticality of the scenario and how we can reduce the effects as much as possible.
Thus, in this article, we will discuss how wildfires affect the environment. So, let’s dive right in.
Table of Contents
How Do Wildfires Begin?
Before understanding the effects on the environment, we must know where the wildfires come from.
Based on the survey by who.int, 50% of the causes of wildfires events are unknown.
The primary cause of the wildfires is lightning — especially the long-lasting hot lightning bolts. Yet, there are some other reasons why wildfires start. These are volcanic eruptions, meteor, and coal seam fires.
However, some anthropogenic (human-caused) reasons for wildfires that affect the environment are way more extensive than natural, and the percentage varies from region to region.
According to study, the major wildfires events resulted from 85% of human activities. In most cases, whether the cause is natural or anthropogenic, the wildfires trigger extremely dry weather with high heat waves.
Human interactions cause our climate to change dramatically, eventually taking the form of wildfires with lots of adverse effects on our environment.
In a study conducted on Brazilian Amazon rainforest wildfires, the experts state that the fire doesn’t start unexpectedly. But it’s burned intentionally after deforestation for converting forest lands into agricultural fields.
What Are the Effects of Wildfires on The Environment?
Some ways through which wildfires affect the environment include;
Pollution is the primary effect wildfires provide on our environment. With frequent events, a large quantity of carbon dioxide emits to the atmosphere due to biomass burning. It eventually ruins the air quality and causes respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
On the other hand, the increased carbon concentration leads to an increase in global temperature and shows its adverse effects.
As per a study, children are highly vulnerable to smoke after wildfires. These smokes contain ultrathin particles that clog our pores in the lungs and cause difficulty in breathing. Therefore, it is advised to improve filtration and take other preventive measures to avoid the effects of wildfires.
Besides, older people, pregnant women, and people with past episodes of pulmonary diseases are prone to get affected by wildfire smoke.
Besides air pollution, many sediments after the wildfires events deplete the soil quality. And with rainwater, litters mix with large water bodies influencing the aquatic environment.
Post wildfires events, the erosion of soil increases and the downhill aquatic ecosystems get exposed to the metallic accumulation from the fires.
These toxic compounds have carcinogenic and mutagenic properties. Not just affecting the nearby water ecosystem, but these contaminants can accumulate inside the body of one organism to another within the food chain and transfer the diseases significantly.
Destruction of Habitats
The bushfires in Kangaroo Island from 2019–2020 removed about 70% off Glossy Black-Cockatoo’s habitat. Besides, 95% of Kangaroo Island Dunnarts are burned during the wildfires.
Other than these two species, 21 more animal species and 31 plant species were affected during those difficult periods. Furthermore, as per a study conducted by the University of Arizona, 85% of Amazon’s threatened natural habitat got affected by the wildfires events from 2001. In clear words, wildfires are a curse for our ecosystem that significantly affects our food chains and food webs.
Devastate the Agricultural Yield
Based on a study, the pollution caused by wildfires can travel miles to reach the agricultural fields and affect crop production.
Two common by-products — aerosols and ozone — impacts plant productivity. The increased surface ozone depletes the photosynthesis level in plants (even in unaffected areas) and ultimately diminishes overall food production.
These effects of wildfires on the environment can lead to a further natural disaster — drought.
Affect the Vegetation Communities
Vegetation communities get primarily affected by wildfires. Some instances include the decrease in soil organic matter in Amazon rainforest and Boreal forests.
The primary plant groups in Boreal forests include vascular plants, dwarf shrubs, herbs, mosses, lichens, and other species.
As per a study, forest succession after wildfires influences the BVOC (biogenic Volatile Organic Compound) emission and primarily affects the boreal forests.
The post wildfires effects clutter the soil layer with litter. And the change in BVOC emission deviates the atmospheric composition, leading to global warming. Besides, the wounds caused by wildfires makes the plants susceptible to diseases.
Another study indicates that frequent wildfires in boreal forests cause permafrost thawing. These areas are susceptible to increased temperature. As a result of permafrost thaw, the vegetation level and ecosystem degradation happen. That’s due to the decrease in soil organic matter that happens post wildfires events.
Current evidence of wildfires in Siberia burned 21 million acres in 2021. In this instance, the Director of Climate Emergency Institute — Peter D Carter — Says, “wildfires in Siberia are bigger than all other world wildfires combined. They are burning Boreal Forest peatland overlying thawing permafrost. The long-feared Arctic carbon bomb is exploding.”
Besides, some other influences of wildfires are the loss of humans, properties, cattle and the loss of essential services like water supply, electricity, transportation, and communication.
With increasing global temperature, the number of wildfires per year is also growing.
The wildfires going on in 2022 are;
- N.C. (North Carolina) wildfires that have burned 26.4 acres by 18 wildfires. The environment at this place gets affected by wildfires frequently (almost every month).
- California Laguna Beach has expanded to 140 acres.
The primary reason for a wildfire that comes into being is hot and dry weather, and the fire begins with human activities.
Here we grasped the devastating effects of wildfires on the environment, directly connecting with human interventions. Therefore, we should take preventive measures to help our mother nature escape this severe pain.