Welcome to ON(line)SC's Virtual Learning!
Welcome to day two of our week of discovering the forces of nature. Yesterday was all about water and how it changes and shapes the natural world around us. Today we will be exploring another force of nature that has a great deal of power to change the natural world: fire.
Everyone is familiar with fire and most people have seen one burning before but what is fire, really? Fire is what happens when three ingredients -fuel, oxygen, and heat- are brought together in the right amounts. The heat causes a reaction between the oxygen and the fuel and ta-da! Suddenly you have fire. Watch our teacher-naturalists build a fire from scratch in the following video!
If you have been to a campfire or bonfire before, take some time to write down what you liked or remember the most about it. If you have not had a campfire before, write down some of the things you would like to do around a bonfire. What are some other things humans have used fire for? What do we rely on fire for?
Many fun memories can be made sitting around a campfire.
Now let’s shift gears to fire in nature. When you think of natural fires, do you normally think of fire as being a positive or negative natural force? When forest fires are highlighted in the news are the effects shown usually positive or negative? Fire can have many different effects on the environment, both helpful and harmful.
The first effects we see from fire are often the negative ones. How does this sudden change affect the animals who live in the burned area? What about plants that survive the fire?
While the short term effects of fire are often damaging and destructive on habitats, the long term effects of fire can be much more positive.
After a fire burns through a habitat it leaves behind lots of nutrient-rich ash. Why is this important? Where do those nutrients go? You guessed it, they go right back into the soil to get reused by plants all over again! In fact, some species of plants will only grow in an area after it’s been burned. These newly-sprouted plants can more easily find:
What might be some other benefits of waiting to grow until after a fire passes through an area?
This area was burned less than two years ago!
Hmm...with fire returning nutrients to the soil to be reused by plants, it almost feels like this process is a cycle or something. If you were about to tell me that’s because it is all a big cycle, you would be absolutely right! Fires can be a good way to keep nutrients moving through nature. For those of you that have been following us for several weeks, you might remember that our second week focused on decomposition. How is this cycle similar to decomposition? What makes it different?
Another positive long term effect fires can have is they can help prevent fires. You might be thinking, wait a minute; fires help prevent fires? You’re crazy, that makes no sense! As crazy as it might sound, good fires can help prevent bad fires. Remember that fire needs fuel, like wood, to burn. When a fire moves through an area, it burns up the available fuel. When you walk through a natural area, you might notice that some areas have more fallen trees, branches, and leaves than others. The amount of fuel available for a fire to burn up is called the fuel load. Most of the most damaging fires happen in places where fuel loads allow fires to burn tall and hot enough to reach the tops of trees. Basically, less fuel=smaller fires=less overall damage!
Many trees have thick bark that allows them to survive ground level fires. It’s only when the fire reaches the higher branches that it becomes dangerous to the tree. Lower fuel loads keep the fire closer to the ground.
So you see that even though fire can be damaging, it is still both a powerful force of nature and a very important part of many environments, including several here in the Ozarks. Consider our glade habitat at the science center; without fires to clear out the young trees that start to grow, areas like this one would naturally become forests, and the unique plants and animals that live here would be lost. We will talk about this more later this week!
The glade at ONSC
Alright, fellow fire friends, we’ve explored how fire affects the natural environment. Now it’s time for us to explore how fire moves. Go outside (if you are allowed), or look through your windows. Carefully observe your yard or the area out your window. If a small fire moved through the area, do you see any spots nearby that would burn more easily than others? If so, why do you think these spots would burn more easily? Do you notice anything, natural or manmade, that could act as a barrier that would slow down or stop a fire from spreading? If so, why would they slow or stop a fire’s spread? Draw a “fire map” of where you would expect fire to move. Remember that each of the planet’s four spheres (geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere) can change how fire moves! What direction is the wind blowing? When was the last rain?
Well naturalists, that wraps up today’s discoveries on fire as a force of nature. Remember to always be careful with any source of fire or open flames, and also remember to join us tomorrow to discover another force of nature.
Be sure to send in any questions you have about the forces of nature and tune in to our Find-Out Friday where we will answer your questions live. You can send your questions to our Facebook page or to Socialmedia@onsc.us and make sure to tune in for Find-Out Friday at 11:00AM CST.
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