STUDY: Wildfires and dead trees actually helped California during the drought years

Scientists believe wildfires and dead trees actually helped California endure one of the worst droughts in State history.

UC Merced's Sierra Nevada Research Institute was part of a team that published a study about the effects of California's 2012-2015 drought. The report was written in conjunction with UC Irvine, UC Davis and the USDA Forest Service.

In the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, "drought years were characterized by widespread tree mortality - the result of increased wildfire and drought-associated tree dieback. This had the effect of thinning forests, but also reduced forest-associated evapotranspiration, leading to a 15 percent increase in 2016 spring runoff."

Scientists say the findings show the environment is able to maintain a balance in the face of severe drought, at least in the short term.

"We often think of drought as a one-way street, causing water shortages and creating desert-like conditions," said Richard Yuretich, director of the National Science Foundation's Critical Zone Observatories Program, which funded the research. "This analysis demonstrates that runoff from increased snowmelt at higher elevations and the loss of vegetation from wildfires can compensate for some of the decreases in rainfall."
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