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Unforced Variations; June 2012

Filed under: — group @ 1 June 2012

This month’s open thread…

408 Responses to “Unforced Variations; June 2012”

  1. 351
    simon abingdon says:

    #346 Radge Havers says “I guess they don’t teach the fundamentals of critical thinking in airplane school”.

    Actually Radge, more than anything else they teach you continually to ask “what if …” questions. Otherwise you’re not likely to survive. The unrelenting training concentrates the mind rather effectively, at least where life or death (or licence revalidation!) situations are concerned.
    Doesn’t qualify as critical thinking? Whatever, you’d certainly better come up with the right answers.

  2. 352
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    An interesting development at the intersection of science and the courts:

    Court Backs EPA on Emission Rules:

    “The judges unanimously dismissed arguments from industry that the science of global warming was not well supported and that the agency had based its judgment on unreliable studies. “This is how science works,” the judges wrote. “The E.P.A. is not required to reprove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.”

    Those are pretty strong words coming from a court.

  3. 353

    anthropogenically consequential clouds?

    And I respond with ‘what clouds’? Are you watching the weather at all?

    My sources are hard core farmers watching the weather with a keen eye for the last 50 up to 100 years and none of the old times have seen anything like this before. I kid you not. This is an entirely new regime.

    When climate changes, farmers get concerned. Climate is changing.

  4. 354
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re inline response to 328:
    “The tropopause is set by CO2” – wrong (it is set by ozone).

    (Question implied)
    I had been under the impression that the tropopause could be influenced by either/both as well as the sun (if/when it changes), etc. With different distributions, stratospheric ozone depletion and CO2 increase have a cooling effect on the stratosphere, while CO2 warms the tropopshere (of course) and ozone – well I don’t remember what exactly the graph in IPCC showed (there would be increased SW heating (not exactly equal to lost SW heating of the upper atmosphere because of increased opportunity for scattering), but also decreased downward LW flux from the stratosphere due to its being cooler and due to loss of ozone) – but the cooling at least diminishes downward. Both would tend to result in increased tropopause height (in pressure coordinates, excluding effect of thermal expansion), which would make the tropopause cooler, offseting (some of?) the warming that would have to occur given warming of the surface and tropospheric lapse rate changes from CO2 increases; ozone wouldn’t have this same warming effect but then it might not have the same (in proportion) height effect so …? (I did read somewhere that CO2 may not have much effect on tropopause temperature whereas ozone depletion would have a cooling effect, but this was awhile ago…)


    As long as I’m here, I was wondering about the reduction in ocean pH response to atmospheric CO2 after time for dissolution and weathering to achieve a new equilibrium ocean composition (for the atmospheric CO2, or for a CO2 perturbation required to result in some specified atmospheric CO2 – setting aside the eventual geologic sequestration effect of weathering of Ca-bearing silicates, etc.). Is there some change in pH that has to remain, and how does it compare to the pH change when C (as CO2) is first dumped into the atmosphere-ocean from a geologic reservoir (but after ocean mixing)?

  5. 355
    Radge Havers says:


    “Doesn’t qualify as critical thinking?”

    Doesn’t specifically deal with identifying and avoiding falling prey to intentional rhetorical misdirection.

    “Whatever, you’d certainly better come up with the right answers.”

    Well if I had questions about commercial piloting, I’d certainly be more inclined to simply ask you, and other pilots, and I wouldn’t waste a lot of time entertaining the verbal stylings of nuts who thought flying was a hoax. Your answers might not always be exactly right, but there’s a better chance they’d at least be pertinent. Get it?

  6. 356
    Susan Anderson says:

    Doubters, have you noticed the news lately? Checked with any oldsters? Any farmers? Looked at Wunderground? ClimateCentral? Any dedicated qualified researchers who have given their lives to understanding and promulgating understanding?

    Casting doubt on science, real science, and reality, real reality, has become a fool’s game. Today at breakfast we were trying to find a better parallel than Monbiot’s WWI for idiot leadership (absence of same, actually) and a little education about Attila the Hun whose memory has been rather traduced led to other collapses in history. Perhaps Genghis Khan? Of course religion got mixed up in it, which always confuses the issue. Unintended consequences abound, but this time promotion of the absent ain’t gonna happen because absence is not possible any more.

    Regardless, Monbiot names the epic fail in which we find ourselves, and arguments about why we should have more and bigger spectacles every year on a finite planet instead of how we can solve the problem of sharing our limited resources are getting faker by the minute.“sustainability”-became-“sustained-growth”/

  7. 357
    dbostrom says:

    Interesting fresh post at MeltFactor:

    Greenland ice sheet reflectivity at record low, particularly at high elevations

    See abstract therein concerning possible surface melting extending to highest elevations in Greenland.

  8. 358
  9. 359
    dbostrom says:

    When economists and other experts talk about the future using the soft term “adaptation” what’s happening today at Colorado Springs is part of the story. Best avoided to the greatest possible extent.

  10. 360
    dbostrom says:


    Officials say the Flagstaff Fire, as it is being called, is moving quickly toward the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a federally-funded research facility, reported. Three aircraft and a massive C-130 air tanker have been dispatched to fight the fire, which has been described as an “extreme” blaze.

    Tens of thousands evacuated in Colo. wildfires

  11. 361
    MARodger says:

    simon abingdon @whereever.
    Perhaps I should make clear the reason for my request @330 for confirmation of your reference to the Robert Brown comment. Simply I cannot see why anyone would consider that particular comment merits discussion. It is after all one of so many long and wordy comments by Brown (I counted. It is the 32nd such comment and nowhere near last-in-thread.) trailing down under his already overly long and wordy original post.
    Can you explain what merit you saw in it? Or do I still have the wrong Robert Brown reference?

    @303 you describe it saying “I find its manifest evenhandedness and apparently convincing objectivity quite compelling.” yet I see absolutely nothing like that. Brown doesn’t answer the question he sets out to answer. His second paragraph demonstrates he is totally out of his depth on how increasing GHGs work. His “here’s one I did earlier” graphical assault on Hansen et al 1981 shows (even giving him the benefit of the doubt) that he doesn’t even understand the basics of temperature anomalies!
    His final assessment of climate sensitivity invokes such things as the Little Ice Age, non-linear solar influences, other as-yet-unknown solar-driven mechanisms, decadal oscillations and scaly dragons with flaming eyes as well as major non-anthropogenic CO2 sources that the scurrilous Hansen et al 1981 “deliberately omitted.” And just for good measure his final overly-assertive conclusions are greatly mismatched with his caveats that he squirrels away a few lines above.
    (All this from a man who wishes not to be called a “denier” but rather a scientist discussing ‘science’. It is no wonder some find it “rather intriguing” when this arrant tosh is lamely labelled as “nonsense.”)

    Brown’s comment may be an exceptional work of scholarship by the standards of WUWT but I fail to see any place here. So can you please explain its merit? Why did you bring it to RealClimate?

  12. 362
    Rob Painting says:

    Anon experimenter @340 – The ocean basins are getting deeper because they flex downward under the extra loading from the water mass added to the oceans from melting land-based ice. This same process levers continents upward because the land is not subjected to extra loading. This is but one facet of Glacial Isostatic Adjustment (GIA). 173 tgente

  13. 363
    SecularAnimist says:

    dbostrom quoted: “… the fire, which has been described as an ‘extreme’ blaze …”

    As global warming continues, we are certainly going to experience spectacular phenomena, such as mega-firestorms, the like of which human beings have never previously experienced.

    If one puts aside the horror and fear, it’s really quite interesting.

  14. 364
    MapleLeaf says:

    Regarding the fires in the southwestern USA. Please take solace in the fact that according to Pielke Snr. the heat wave affecting Colorado (and large portions of the southwestern USA) is less extreme because it is a dry heat. Pielke says:

    “In the July 2005 heat wave discussed in the above paper, the Denver heat wave was less extreme using this combined metric, due to very low humidity accompanying the event. This is also a major factor in the current heat wave.

    I’m sure that the people who have lost their homes and the fire fighters and emergency officials are relieved because it is a dry heat! /sarc

    This is denial at its best by Pielke Snr.– he is surrounded by an inferno and is thinking of ridiculous reasons to downplay the severity.

    This latest obfuscation is just one example why Pielke Snr. has sadly lost much credibility amongst his peers in recent years. It is unfortunate that he is electing to taint his once high standing and past work with his current agenda.

    And for the record, Dr. Pielke has misrepresented me on his web blog on the issue of decadal forecasts. But we are used to “skeptics” misrepresenting others’ positions to support their narrative.

  15. 365
    Charlie H says:

    #363, Secular Animist, “If one puts aside the horror and fear, it’s really quite interesting.”

    Personally, I’m both fascinated and horrified by the opening of the Northwest Passage and the possibility that the Arctic may well have ice-free Summers soon. For that reason, I found dbostrom’s #300 post, a polar plot of PIOMAS data to be particularly interesting.

  16. 366
    dbostrom says:

    Nice roundup of relationship of climate and extreme weather at Yale360, from last year.

    I have to say that I find Roger Pielke Jr.’s remarks a little bit over the top. Pielke emphasizes the need for decades of more/better statistics very enthusiastically, to the point of blindness. Others asked as part of that roundup are more circumspect.

    Anyway there’s formal science to be done on attribution but then again there’s the plainly obvious in front of our noses. Wouldn’t it be safe to say that the plunge in Arctic ice volume/extent/everything is in part the result of many years of “extreme” weather, weather outside the bounds of what was formerly considered average? Are increasingly compressed and bunched record-breaking weather observations not “extreme?” If Greenland’s ice sheet is decaying rapidly isn’t it responding to “extreme” weather?

    From my layman’s perspective extreme weather includes year after year of excursive weather. It’s extremely obvious that extra energy in the atmosphere can’t be hidden.

  17. 367
    John E. Pearson says:

    Regarding fire does anyone know whether there are plans to alter forest management in light of climate change? It strikes me that current policy is not adequate to prevent summer conflagrations. Might a far more aggressive controlled burn policy make a difference?

  18. 368
    dbostrom says:

    John, it seems a lot of these forests may not be coming back anytime soon. If that’s true then the management practice cards seem to up in the air?

  19. 369
    Hank Roberts says:

    For John Pearson: search including these phrases
    “climate change” “forest service” “prescribed burn”
    For example:

  20. 370
    dbostrom says:

    Further to Jim’s musings, see interesting LA Times article about “superfires” and plans to reduce their probability/impact:

    Peter Fulé, a longtime professor in the school of forestry at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, talked to the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday about the “perfect confluence” of factors fueling fires such as Colorado’s Waldo Canyon fire.

    There are parts of the world and the western U.S. in particular where huge, infrequent fires are part of the natural fire ecology, Fulé said. But that isn’t the case for some areas now falling prey to super fires.

    The reason? Modern firefighting technology has meant fewer fires. Fuel to feed massive blazes has built up. And, Fulé said, climate change has brought warming conditions over the last couple of decades — meaning longer fire seasons, starting early in the spring and extending late into the fall.

    Even if rain and snow amounts remain the same, he said, warmer temperatures mean more evaporation, drying out the landscape. Individual drought years increase the risk of huge fires: “This winter in Colorado, it was quite dry.”

    And the future looks only drier and warmer.

    “The predictions climatologists are developing for the 21st century don’t look any better,” Fulé said. With plentiful fuel and warming conditions, super fires likely will continue to ignite.

    The fallout will include “loss of life, loss of homes and communities and infrastructure,” as well as long-term effects such as soil erosion, flooding, and the invasion of exotic plant species with the death of native species.

    But Fulé isn’t ready to suggest a doomsday scenario.

    There are things that can be done — and are being done — to combat this fiery future.

    Thinning smaller, younger trees from forests and using proscribed burning can greatly reduce the chance of a super fire. “Those are two important forest restoration techniques that are being done around the U.S.,” to some extent, he said.

    The problem is, such efforts are expensive — several hundred dollars to $1,000 per acre — and there are millions of acres. The U.S. government manages most of the nation’s forest lands, he said, “and the federal government really doesn’t have a lot of extra money it doesn’t know what to do with.”

    More: Waldo Canyon is latest super fire; get used to them, expert says

    A quandry. Money must be spent and we like to pretend that’s not necessary. What to do?

  21. 371
    dhogaza says:

    Might a far more aggressive controlled burn policy make a difference?

    Money’s an issue with both the BLM and USFS. Mechanical thinning is extremely common because the woody material, though not very valuable, can be sold. Unfortunately there’s a history of thinning sales being sweetened with a bit of real timber …

  22. 372
    Steve Bloom says:

    361 MARodger: Avoiding Occam’s Razor much? :)

  23. 373
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #370: But existing ecologies can’t be propped up indefinitely by artificial means, even were that practical on a sufficient scale. As warming/drying proceeds, those landscapes are bound to convert.

    One implication of all of this is that, much like beachfront property in Norfolk (VA), those lovely homes nestled in the trees are an anachronism. But even this fire season, worse though it may get, probably isn’t enough for most of the affected people to face up to that reality. Local governments will be similarly prone to ignoring the problem, but it will be interesting to see the insurance industry response.

  24. 374
    dbostrom says:

    MARodger: [Brown’s] final assessment of climate sensitivity invokes such things as the Little Ice Age, non-linear solar influences, other as-yet-unknown solar-driven mechanisms, decadal oscillations and scaly dragons with flaming eyes as well as major non-anthropogenic CO2 sources that the scurrilous Hansen et al 1981 “deliberately omitted.”

    A mighty and awe-inspiring jackalope! Made of nature and lashings of imagination but not found in nature.

    Floppy ears and horns and they reproduce like, well, rabbits…

  25. 375
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #364: Ah, RP Sr., a veritable block off the old chip, as it were. After all these years, all I have to say is “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.” The recursiveness seems apt.

  26. 376
    Tokodave says:

    371 dhogaza: The reality is there are millions of acres throughout the Northern Rockies and on into British Columbia and Alberta that could benefit from controlled burns, mechanical treatments, and some timber sales. The other part of that reality is that there is not enough money in the world let alone federal, state and provincial budgets to undertake these programs on anything other than local scales. These projects are generally undertaken in the “wildland urban interface” to limit the potential for extreme fire behavior in these difficult settings. There is little market even for commercial timber sales so these treatments need money and staff and in an era where those are thin and stretched, it’s not a pretty picture. There are environmental issues with both mechanical treatments and controlled burns which only compounds the scale of the problem.

  27. 377
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Hmm. How long do you think it will be before we have a post at WTFUWT claiming it’s the fires that are causing global warming…

    Or, some totally unscrupulous individual could go over and suggest it to see how may Wattsians fall for it..

  28. 378
  29. 379
    dbostrom says:

    Ray: “…claiming it’s the fires that are causing global warming…”

    Along those lines see this interesting post at MeltFactor:

    Greenland ice sheet albedo continues dropping at highest elevations

  30. 380
    sue says:

    How do moderators here allow this snark? Please clean it up.

  31. 381
    John E. Pearson says:

    These address the issues I was mumbling about.

    I suspect that the biggest problem is political.

  32. 382
    sue says:

    Actually I need to apologize for my past comment a bit (if it even goes through). It’s not the snark that I’m concerned about from regular posters that I have a problem with. But seeing a young scientist sucked into this is disheartening. As a parent (and RC scientists (mentors) please take note) we want our children to think for themselves and not be pressured by peer pressure. How can this young man ever look at data and not ‘see’ what he ‘wants’ to see… If he came across some evidence that conflicted with ‘the consensus’ would he even consider it as publishable material or would he just think it was in error and move on? I hope he has been trained better then that, but seeing him post/say the things he does has me worried about his objectivity of the science. I fear our universities are producing advocates and not scientists. It’s very disheartening… Asking questions/questioning authority is always good. I know you all remember doing that! I’ll get off my soap box now :)

  33. 383
    John E. Pearson says:

    Tokodave mentioned environmental issues with controlled burns.

    I can’t imagine that environmental issues associated with controlled burns aren’t dwarfed by those that come with a crown fire. I’m not sure how many people appreciate the difference between low temperature ground fires and crown fires which can easily melt hubcaps 100′ from the fire. They are totally different beasts.

  34. 384
    Ray Ladbury says:

    It is not at all clear what you are referring to. What young man? What evidence? Indeed, what snark?

    As to your question, I would hope that anyone would try to understand any evidence that came his or her way in the context of all the other evidence. Ability to interpret in context is what seperates the expert from the moron.

  35. 385

    How do moderators here allow this snark? Please clean it up.

    When you start making requests that sound like demands on other people’s blog than I can suggest that it’s time to start your own soap box blog where you can present your unique perspective regardless of the actual evidence.

  36. 386

    Asking questions/questioning authority is always good. I know you all remember doing that!

    Indeed I do, I remember questioning the authority of religious dogma at a very early age. I’m questioning myself now why I’m conversing with a PR bot.

  37. 387
    SecularAnimist says:

    Steve Bloom wrote: “… much like beachfront property in Norfolk (VA), those lovely homes nestled in the trees are an anachronism …”

    A lot of other things will soon be “anachronisms” too. Things like most major cities in the US southwest. Like American agriculture. Like major cities up and down both coasts. Like forests.

  38. 388
    John E. Pearson says:

    what SA said in 387:

    I bit my tongue on that one. The impact of these fires goes way beyond lovely homes nestled in trees. Most homes in the southwest don’t fit that description in any event. We’re talking about the livelihood and health of tens of millions of people. Last week I drove from northern New Mexico through Colorado to Utah. There was smoke at beginning, the middle, and the end. There were standing dead trees (killed by bark beetle) mixed in with living forest everywhere.
    Smoke from a fire 200 miles away can be so strong that it burns your throat and eyes. One somewhat less grim aspect of this year’s record breaking 300,000 acre White Water Baldy Complex fire in NM is that it probably isn’t as it sounds. Last year’s record breaking 150,000 acre Las Conchas fire was probably worse in the sense that there were more acres of crown fire in the Las Conchas fire. Here are the burn severity maps. I can’t find one for the Las Conchas that has a nice summary like the Whitewater-Baldy Complex map does. The Las Conchas fire burnt 43,000 acres in the first day and another 20,000 the second day. Much of this was crown fire.

  39. 389
    dhogaza says:


    The reality is there are millions of acres throughout the Northern Rockies and on into British Columbia and Alberta that could benefit from controlled burns, mechanical treatments, and some timber sales.

    I didn’t say that mechanical treatments are bad, I was pointing out that the limitd funds available to the USFS and BLM lead to mechanical treatments being very common. This was in response to a post wondering why controlled burns aren’t more commonly used.

    However, it’s true that tracts up for mechanical treatment are often sweetened with timber for one reason only: to make the sale more attractive for bidders. Not because the harvest of marketable timber is better ecologically in many such cases. This doesn’t mean that I believe that timber sales can’t be a useful tool, too.

  40. 390
  41. 391
    Hank Roberts says:

    I found the snow/watershed chart thanks to this blog page:
    I found that blog page thanks to a Metafilter post today.

  42. 392
    Hank Roberts says:

    Possibly worth a topic, here, or perhaps by Tamino — statistics and inference and what’s new about how it’s being done. This got me thinking:

    ——excerpt follows——-

    “… moderated by Kenneth Cukier, the data editor of The Economist.

    The first questioner asked whether big data necessarily means that the reasoning behind machine predictions would become harder to understand. Mr Hammerbacher, who previously worked in the trenches of this very matter as Facebook’s first data-scientist, ventured in:

    “Social science as a model for data science is much stronger than in the physical sciences, in that there is a tremendous focus on the model of causal inference in observational studies,” he said. “Even in the last 20 to 30 years there has been a pretty big evolution in the statistical tools that we have at our disposal for actually inferring causality in an observational study—when we are not actually able to control the assignment of treatments to subjects.”

    “… the world is actually moving in the direction of removing the opacity of the models that it generates. It’s just that the statistical tools are actually genuinely novel.”

    —— end excerpt ——-

  43. 393
    John E. Pearson says:

    dhogoza in 371 and 389:

    I wasn’t really wondering why controlled burns aren’t more commonly used. Controlled burns are the only fire management I ever see and they are quite common. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen mechanical thinning. The problem is that the controlled burns that are done are almost ludicrous in their inadequacy. I am advocating for large scale burning during the cooler wetter calmer seasons.
    Given the stuff I linked in 381 it looks as if people who actually study fire control in the southwest have reached similar conclusions.

    With all the standing dead wood in the forests (see Hank’s link in 391, that wasn’t cherry picked, it’s like that all over) and severe drought there are going to be a great many very nasty fires unless the people push for aggressive management on a scale that hasn’t been practiced since the indians managed the land, if ever. I suspect it is politically impossible right now. There are the standard denialists who would say that we need not manage a nonexistent problem. In addition there are also a certain subcategory of environmentalists who are opposed to controlled burns. Maybe after a few more suburban areas burn people will come to their senses.

    [Response:There’s little question about it in many places, especially in the more productive Mediterranean-type climates of the pacific southwest, but not just there. You absolutely cannot put any type of fire in many of those places in anything but the wet and/or cool season and no land or fire manager who values his career would ever do so, for fear of another Los Alamos type event. But in such places the seasonality in precip. is a problem, because the shoulder season burn windows can be quite narrow–it’s either too dry or too wet to control, or carry, a fire respectively. On top of this there are air quality restrictions in most places. Mechanical thinning is the only way to get started in those places, but it’s prohibitively expensive, far exceeding prescribed fire costs, and you still need to burn them after you’ve thinned them as well. That’s why the strategy through the western US and Canada has increasingly gone to strategic use and/or expansion of existing firebreaks (think roads, ridge-tops, and rivers), with the goal being only to slow down fire spread rates so that fire suppression teams have a fighting chance at some type of control. Across millions of acres there is no hope, or realistic plan, for actual fuels treatment–it’s all about slowing down spread rates. There is also no market, in many places, for the types of fuels removed during a thinning operation. This gets to Dhogaza’s point that such operations often have to remove some timber trees to pay for themselves. And on top of all that, there are many places in which infrequent but large crown fires were in fact the historical norm–including especially the Rocky Mountain region lodgepole pine forests which are vast. The entire situation is a very big time mess. A number of people, including me, have been trying to get peoples attention on it for many many years now, but the problem is only growing exponentially worse by the year as fuel loads continue to build (very rapidly now in some places, as you note), and the climate of western North America continues to warm and dry. There will be many more fire catastrophes, you can absolutely bank on it, as you would the sun rising tomorrow morning. –Jim]

  44. 394
    J Bowers says:

    A dress to save the world

    According to green fashion website Ecouterre, designer Dahea Sun has created some naturally-dyed silk dresses that change colour according to air quality.

    The Central Saint Martin’s textile student had developed a set of dyes using pigments found in red cabbages, blackberries, and aubergine that responded to acidity levels in rainwater and can therefore detect acid rain.

    What’s more, she’s created a smartphone app which records the data from the dress. Using GPS, it can then map the crowd-sourced data to show air-quality trends on a global scale.
    Regardless of its poetic resonance, the Tank wonders whether London Mayor Boris Johnson could order in a few pollution detecting suits to provide him with up-to the minute information on air quality as he cycled around the capital.


  45. 395
    Hank Roberts says:

    Start a forest fire, get a government bailout:

    “… California’s largest landowner. SPI is being prosecuted for negligently starting a fire … The U.S. Attorney’s office describes SPI’s attempt to change the legal playing field as “cynical …”

  46. 396
    dhogaza says:

    You absolutely cannot put any type of fire in many of those places in anything but the wet and/or cool season and no land or fire manager who values his career would ever do so, for fear of another Los Alamos type event.

    But some local ranchers just burn whenever it pleases them …

    Not a forest, and not the SW, but pretty amazing. 30 years ago ranchers vehemently opposed controlled burns of juniper-infested sage steppe and now they’re committing arson …

    (this particular family has a past history of acting in the belief that they’re free to do whatever they want to federal lands. Now two of them will be free to try to do whatever they want for a minimum of five years in federal prison)

  47. 397
    dhogaza says:


    And on top of all that, there are many places in which infrequent but large crown fires were in fact the historical norm–including especially the Rocky Mountain region lodgepole pine forests which are vast.

    For those of you unfamiliar with this, You can read about the 1988 Yellowstone fire in wikipedia

    The article is somewhat interesting because in portions it can’t decide whether the fire was tremendously destructive or a natural event in the life cycle of seretonious lodgepole pine forests, such as this snippet:

    The predominant tree in Yellowstone, the lodgepole pine, fared poorly from the fires, except in areas where the heat and flames were very mild. The lodgepole pine is serotinous and often produces pine cones that remain closed and will not disperse seeds unless subjected to fire. Research of test plots established after the fires indicated that the best seed dispersal occurred in areas which had experienced severe ground fires, and that seed dispersal was lowest in areas which had only minor surface burns.[27] Regions with crown fires sometimes had the highest rates of regeneration of lodgepole pine after 5 years.[28] However, the rate of lodgepole regeneration was not uniform, with some areas seeing extremely high densities of new growth while other areas had less. Stands of dead lodgepole killed by the fires may persist for decades, rising above new growth and providing habitat for birds and other wildlife.

    Lodgepole pines fared poorly in the fire, yet the snippet makes clear that the lodgepole pines here require fire for the seeds to open and the forest to regenerate with young trees. Lodgepole pines don’t live forever, so at some point you need fire … and as Jim says the periodic large crown fires are historical the norm and from the snippet above you can see that these lodgepole pines are highly adapted to “faring poorly” as a result of “destructive burns” without which they wouldn’t exist.

    [Response:Yes, thanks for explaining that Dhogaza. Serotinous lodgepole occurs in high percentages in the Rockies, and the simultaneous opening of the cones when heated leads to extremely even-aged stands that are extremely dense and uniform for many years, leading directly to a natural crown fire regime. Just so I don’t confuse anybody, the current fires near Colorado Springs are in a different forest type completely (ponderosa pine), which do not have this type of natural fire regime at all.–Jim]

  48. 398
    Tokodave says:

    Thanks Jim @ 393 response. That’s a good summary of what dhogaza and I have been discussing. Steve Pyne at the Daily Beast has a good article on the Colorado fire and U S fire policy at He suggests that “We can even set aside global warming as a primary cause because we are seeing outbreaks that are within historic climatic ranges.” Climate change might not be the “primary cause” but I would not have phrased it quite like that. As I mentioned in an earlier post here … its complicated by a climate change trifecta, earlier snowmelt, longer hotter summers and insect infestations leading to extensive stands of dead and dying trees.

    [Response:Thanks, that’s an outstanding piece by Steve Pyne, who knows the issues around national fire policy and management like very few others. But I agree with your point above–it’s all about understanding the full system. Time to link to Rick Brown’s terrific piece once again also–Jim

  49. 399
    dbostrom says:

    Tokodave: …it’s complicated by a climate change trifecta…

    Michael Tobis has just posted a nice piece talking of this: A Thousand Bastrops.

    Maybe a quadfecta?

  50. 400
    dhogaza says:


    the simultaneous opening of the cones when heated leads to extremely even-aged stands that are extremely dense and uniform for many years, leading directly to a natural crown fire regime

    Yes, indeed. Yellowstone in the late 1990s looked a lot like a replanted clear-cut with waist-high trees, which I’m sure caused a lot of casual visitors to assume that there had been extensive replanting by the NPS after the fire. But it was all a result of cones opening up during the fire and the seeds sprouting the next spring.