Israel’s worst-ever forest fire earlier this month confirms predictions on the impact of global warming in the Mediterranean basin, according to one of Israel’s leading climate experts.
“The fire disaster in the Carmel Mountains near Haifa is a taste of the future,” Guy Pe’er, co-author of Israel’s National Report on Climate Change, said on Wednesday.
Nearly a decade ago, Pe’er and other scientists warned that warming would create conditions such as heat waves, decreased and delayed rainfall, leading to a higher risk of intense forest fires.
The recent four-day blaze, which destroyed some five million trees across 12,000 acres (4,800 hectares), arose from these very conditions, he said.
The national report predicted that a temperature increase of only 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times would cause the region’s desert to expand northward some 300-500 kilometers (200-30 miles).
Without deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions, the temperature increase by century’s end will be closer to 3.0 C (5.4 F), scientists say.
In either scenario, such a change would spell the end of Mediterranean-type ecosystems in Israel, Pe’er said.
The fire that raged in the Carmel mountain range, which rises more than 500 meters (1,500 feet) above sea level, was preceded by eight months of drought and occurred during a heat wave with temperatures around 30 C.
Normally, first rainfall should have come in September or October, and the maximal daily temperature at this time of year should be around 15-20 C.
Pe’er, currently a fellow at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Leipzig, said it would be decades before the region began to recover.
Forty-three people were killed in the fire.