Study: Past wildfire speeds snowmelt

Published On: Sep 17 2013 02:15:30 PM PDT
Corvallis, OR -

A new study shows charred forests left behind by wildfires make the mountain snowpack that Western rivers depend on melt faster.

Lead author Kelly Gleason, a doctoral candidate at Oregon State University, says they found more snow fell in burned forests than in green ones. But the snow melted off twice as fast in burned forests, and was gone 23 days earlier. The reason was the black bits sloughing off the charred trees onto the snow intensified the heat from the sun.

Eighty percent of forest fires are in the snow zone.

Co-author Anne Nolin, an associate professor of climatology and hydrology at OSU, says logic suggests more wildfires associated with global warming will contribute to earlier snowmelt already seen with rising temperatures.

The study appeared in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.