On July 26th, the Swedish military dropped laser-guided bombs on a forest fire that had been raging for nearly two weeks close to the town of Älvdalen, near its border with Norway. Due to its remoteness, firefighters had been unable to reach the area and the western forest is also strewn with unexploded ordnance owing to an old army firing range nearby.
For the past few weeks, wildfires have been wreaking havoc across Scandinavia as a result of the unusually hot, dry weather that has been plaguing part of Europe. Swedish authorities reported on Monday that a total area of 250 square kilometers was in a blaze. To finally quell the unrelenting fire, the Swedish army dropped a high precision-guided bomb, the 250 kilogram GBU-49 with a dual seeker offering both GPS and laser guidance, onto the region.
The science behind it
According to Popular Mechanics, the sudden pressure change caused by the explosion separates the flame from its fuel source ― in the case of forest fires, the trees, and brush. The article goes on to describe how the “same thing happens when you blow out the candles on a birthday cake.”
This is not the first time the Swedish Army has used military weapons to put out forest fires and the same concept is used by engineers to distinguish fires in oil wells. Similar principles have also previously been applied to prevent other potentially disastrous natural events in nature, such as in the 1930’s, when the US Army attempting to stop the eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii by deploying a bomb. In addition, bombs are used to break up ice buildup in the rivers of Russia and China.
Consequences of global warming
Stories of natural disasters on an immense scale are becoming more commonplace in the news. Wildfires have killed at least 80 people near Athens, around 800 square kilometers of forests are the victims of ruthless flames in Siberia, and the current heatwave in Japan has now been declared a natural disaster by the country.
The most obvious consequence of global warming is higher temperatures in response to greenhouse gas forcing. Earth is approximately 1°C hotter today than before the Industrial Revolution. Heatwaves ― which are increasing in both frequency and severity ― can ravage crops, spoil food, and ignite catastrophic fires.
Changes in weather patterns are a direct result of the North and South poles warming at a much faster rate than lower latitudes leading smaller thermal gradients. Moreover, the jet stream that carries certain weather patterns is now blowing at a much lower velocity, meaning that weather conditions carried by the stream are now often lasting much longer than usual. In some cases, the resulting temperatures are cooler and sometimes hotter than what we might expect.
Nonetheless, it seems to be increasingly more evident that small changes in average global temperature are leasing to drastic changes in the frequency of extreme events.