There are not any existing photos that I first saw which inspired me to take these photos. I was first fascinated with this topic not because of the
statistics and facts of how massive this issue is, but from an aesthetic curiosity - in a car driving past mile after mile of these funny Dr. Seuss-looking trees I became quickly obsessed with
their strange appearance and wanted to photograph them.
These burnt trees are left with some uniquely strange beauty. Looking past their visual appeal though lays quite a serious topic.
Starting with the size of Alaska, yes it is indeed a very large state. In fact, it is the largest and most sparsely populated U.S. state with 1.718 million km² and a population of 741,894 (2016).
The year 2004 is the current record holder, with 6.59 million acres burned (6.59 million acres = 2666878 hectares). In 2015 there were 768 wildfires recorded, burning over 5 million acres (5,111,404 acres = 2068512 hectares). Three of Alaska’s worst five wildfire seasons have happened since 2004, with a total of 16 million acres burned (2004, 2005 and 2015).
Seeing the U.S. as a whole, 17% of the forests are in Alaska. There has always been forrest fires in Alaska, but they have within recent years reached new heights. These wildfires are so massive and intense that they could transform entire ecosystems. According to Ted Schuur, an ecologist at Northern Arizona University, “What happens in the summer of 2015 has the potential to change the whole trajectory of [the burned area] for the next 100 years or more.”
Wildfires are much more than just charred trees and blackened earth. The other ramifications these fires have really cause bigger longterm issues beyond the obvious things which people first think of - immediate risk and disturbance to local residents and ecosystems.
For example, the effects on high-latitude permafrost and its massive storage of organic carbon. “When permafrost thaws, carbon currently locked up in the frozen ground is released to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane. Wildfires amplify carbon emissions from declining permafrost […].”