Research Proposal: Global Warming and Western United States Wildfires

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Last updated: February 22, 2019

Over the recent years wildfires have been rampant phenomena in the Western United States of America.

One thing as been noted about the trends of the wildfires, that they are more intensive during the hotter seasons, when the spring temperatures come earlier and the summer temperatures get hotter. The purpose of this research paper is to conduct a study that will provide data showing the link between increase in temperature due to global warming and the occurrence of climate driven fires. The paper will provide scientifically-backed evidence from books, renowned journals, and other reliable sources to show that the increase in wildfires in the Western United States is as a result of global warming.Statement of the Problem or Research Questions(s)In order to provide a factually backed argument that will support the purpose statement the study will seek to answer a number of questions that includes; Are wildfires considered a natural disaster or are they a product of man made disasters? How do the yearly snowmelts affect seasonal wildfires? Data observation of seasonal temperature changes, what is the scientific link between changing and the frequency and intensity of wildfires? What are the significant changes that make conditions favorable for wildfires? What models of predictions exist that causes conditions for wildfires? What are the economical losses due to the wildfires? How has the wildfires affected the environment and are there a negative or a positive effect on the ecosystems? In order to provide an argument that can be defended, sufficient data will be collected that will be comprised of vital information about the research studies used such as the duration of time covered by the data collected, methods used in analyzing the data, and findings.

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Theoretical FrameworkTheoretically, this paper will oscillate within the boundaries of the theory of Complex Self-organizing Systems. According to the theory, things do not happen on their own, they happen because someone or something has made them to happen. This is an indicator of a reflection of a fantasy of power over life and the world. The theory holds that most systems consist of interacting parts and behavior of the system as a whole, and that no part controls the whole or even another part.  Such systems are referred to as “Self-organizing” and the behavior of the components referred to as “emergent.” [Lemke (n.d.

)] Similarly, this research study’s hypothesis holds that wildfires do not just occur as a result of dropping of flammable materials in the forests but they occur as a result of global warming.Hypothesis (Statements of the Hypothesis)Wildfires may be caused by both manmade and natural factors. For instance, man can accidentally start a fire by unknowingly throwing flammable objects on dead and dry trees and shrubs, the work of arsonists is also another manmade activity. On the other hand natural factors such as lightening and global warming have been noted to contribute immensely in the increase of the frequency of wildfires. For purposes of this paper’s research study scope, a narrowed down approach will be adopted, that: global warming will be discussed as the main factor behind the frequent wildfires in the Western United States of America. Sufficient evidence shows that, global warming that brings about extreme climatic changes is the cause for wildfires that have been on the increase in the Western region of the United States.

According to Running, (2006), the escalation of wildfire activity in the western United States is directly linked to the increase in temperatures (global warming). He contends that “Higher temperatures and earlier snowmelts are extending the wildfire season and increasing the intensity of wildfires in the Western United States.” (pp. 927-928)Significance of the StudyNatural hazards cause hundreds of deaths and cost billions in disaster aid, disruption of commerce and trade, destruction of homes and critical infrastructure.  Wildfires are an example of such growing natural hazards that poses a threat to life and property. Despite themselves causing numerous deaths and loss of property directly, they are indirectly equally disastrous, in that, they increase the potential for flooding and landslides. The smoke and other gaseous emissions that emanate from wildfires contain pollutants that can cause significant health problems.

The more the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere the more the increase of the risk of wildfires occurrences. It is hoped that the study’s findings and recommendations will help impart the much needed knowledge about the causes of the wildfires that have been a menace to in the western United States. This knowledge will help to clear some notions that people may have been holding in regards to the causes of wildfires. More importantly, if people acquire the knowledge on the causes of the wildfires then they will definitely put measures in place for fighting them. For instance, it is known that the United States of America is one of the greatest emitters of green house gases into the atmosphere which end up contributing to global warming; therefore this will be used as a good reason for need to enact policies that will restrict the emission of the greenhouse gases.Research Design and MethodsThe nature of this research study demands for an approach that will employ theoretical knowledge proposing a generalization between the two key variables.  This approach will enable the researcher to take an objective position to treat the phenomena hard and real. In light of this, then the most appropriate approach for the study is quantitative approach.

This approach will allow for the use of empirical evidence gathered from other related studies and attempt to test hypotheses or statements in regards to this evidence with view to making a generalization between the key variables. Further, this approach involves the measuring, counting, collecting and analyzing of numerical data and application of statistical tests to the collected data.Research Design and InstrumentationDefinition of key VariablesWildfires:According to Blaikie et al, hazards such as hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic explosions, flooding, wildfires must interact with social systems and human vulnerability to qualify the status of “disasters”. The definition of a natural disaster is pegged on the hazard-vulnerability interaction. This is to say that a natural hazard will never result into a natural disaster if it occurs in areas without vulnerability e.

g. strong earthquakes happening in uninhabited lands. However, the most sensitive issue is establishing the cause of disasters. For instance, whereas some disasters are directly caused by mans activities others are caused by natural factors such as global warming, lightening, earthquake, etc. Wildfires for instance, are an example of natural disasters that are mainly caused by changes in climatic conditions. A wildfire, also known as, forest fire, vegetation fire, or bush fire, is an uncontrolled fire in wild land that are caused by both man activities and natural factors such as global warming and lightening.

A fire requires three basic things to burn: fuel, oxygen, and heat. In the case of wildfires the fuel is trees, shrubs, and grasses, especially those that are dead and dry. The air in our atmosphere which is made up of 21% of oxygen, supplies the oxygen that the wildfires needs to burn. On the other hand, the high temperatures supply heat. [Blaikie et al (2003)]Global Warming:Global warming is the increase in the average temperatures of the earth near-surface air and the oceans since the mid-twentieth century and its projected continuation. It is believed that the major cause of global warming is the excess emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This causes the depletion of the ozone layer which protects the excess penetration of strong radiations from the sun.

A slight increase in global temperatures can cause ice sheets to melt, rivers to dry, deserts to encroach, trees to dry and shed leaves, and other forms of desert like situations. There exists sufficient researched evidence that indicates that these desert-like situations are responsible for the increase in the frequency of wildfires. [Climate Change (2007)]Research Study SourcesThis research study involves two variables (global warming: independent and wildfires: dependent) which are directly linked to one another. In order to investigate the interrelation between these two variables, findings of various articles that describe research studies carried out by other researchers on the issue will be studied. This paper will utilize findings from reliable research studies only. In ‘reliable research studies’ it is referred to those studies whose findings were published in reputable journals, have been peer reviewed, or were presented in global meetings on climate as compiled reports. Only those articles that are published in journals such as Science Express, Climate Change, National Wildlife, and PNAS will be utilized. Each article’s findings and other relevant data will be treated independently in order to have an independent comparison at the end of the study that will lead to.

There are many articles that discusses the issue of wildfires as a natural hazard caused by natural factors such as lightening, however, in order to offer tangible support to the study’s purpose statement and hypothesis, major emphasis will be put on those articles that discusses global warming as the core factor to the increase in wildfires on the Western United States (as the purpose statement boldly states).Sampling ProceduresThe research study will not involve the visiting of sites where wildfires have been experienced as there is enough empirical information in journal articles, books and other publications that discusses more about wildfires. However, only empirical evidence that supports this research study purpose statement will be sampled.Justification of Case Studies SelectedIn this study a total of six research studies carried during different times by different researchers will be used as the primary sources of information. The selection of the case studies was based on the fact that they dedicate a larger part of their finding in acknowledging that global warming is the main causal agent of wildfires. Again, they are all peer reviewed journal articles which published in renowned journals or were presented to national or international climatic change forums.

The case studies are: Running’s (2006) Climate Change: Is Global Warming causing More, Larger Wildfires, published in Science Express journal; Tolme’s, (2004) Will Global Warming Cause More Wildfires? Published in National Wildlife journal; Marlon’s (2009), Wildfires responses to abrupt climate change in North America. Published by PNAS; Westerling et al (2006) Warming and earlier spring increase western U.S. Forest fire activity, published in Science Express Journal; Fried et al (2004) The Impact of Climatic Change on Wildfire Severity: A Regional Forecast for Northern California, published in Climate Change journal, and; Kitzberger et al (2007) Contingent Pacific-Atlantic Ocean influence on Multi-Century Wildfire Synchrony Over Western North America, published in PNAS.

Data AnalysisData collected from the findings of the case study will be subjected to content analysis. This method of data analysis suits the nature of this study and the nature of the resource materials used in the study. The approach allows for the scrutinizing at documents, text and speech and takes only the major themes of such texts. It is theory driven (i.e., what the researcher is interested in).

The method will involve the reading of the whole research studies and then more emphasis will be put on those areas of the study that talks about the theme of this study. After that the collected empirical data will be subjected to further analysis in order to point out unique aspects of every research study that are related to this study’s hypothesis. These unique aspects will then be compiled together to form a strong claim that can support the purpose statement of this study. Big chunks of information will be tackled first then the small chunks will follow afterwards to avoid duplication of efforts.

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