Questions for “Can wildfires cool the climate?”

a photo of a wildfire

Wildland fires generate intense heat. But plumes of the sooty smoke that they emit can rise to high altitudes. There it can block out much of the sun’s light, causing a ground-level cooling.

Toa55/iStock/Getty Photos

To accompany feature “Can wildfires cool the climate?


Before Reading:

1.  Wildfires can get intensely hot. How do you think those fires might impact weather? Could they affect climate? How far from away from a fire do you think any weather or climate effects might be felt?

2.  What aspects of a fire do you think might account for any weather or climate effects?

During Reading:

1.  Over what area did western North American wildfires rage in 2020? How far north did such fires burn in Asia that year?

2.  Give at least four environmental or social impacts of intense wildfires?

3.  What is albedo? Describe something with a high albedo. Describe something else with a low albedo.

4.  What is attribution science? What did an attribution-science study by Geert Jan van Oldenborgh conclude about the Australian wildfires in 2019 and 2020?

5.  How many wildfires did California experience in 2020?

6.  What did Yiquan Jiang and his team show about how far fire aerosols could travel? What impacts did those aerosols have when they landed?

7.  Do the aerosols Jiang’s team studied cause more warming or cooling, and by how much?

8.  According to Jiang, what climate differences would you expect for large fires burning in the tropics versus those that burn elsewhere?

9.  Why would no one expect forest fires to be a good way to cool the planet?

10. Why argument does van Oldenborgh give for why forest fires won’t solve global warming?

After Reading:

1.  The largest of the wildfires that blazed through California in 2020 torched roughly 526,000 hectares (1.3 million acres) of land. The total area burned there for the year was 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres). What share of the total was due to that one big fire? Show your work.

2.  Think about all of the things you learned about wildfire effects in this story. Which impact is most concerning to you? Why? If you were the governor of California or prime minister of Australia, what three things would you recommend your residents do to reduce this risk from wildfires? Explain your choices.

Lillian Steenblik Hwang is the associate digital editor for Science News for Explores. She has a bachelor's degree in biology (and a minor in chemistry) from Georgia State University and a master's degree in in science journalism from Boston University.