In the Media
Warming to ignite the carbon bomb
February 28, 2012
Rising temperatures are drying out northern forests and peatlands, producing bigger and more intense fires. And this will only get much worse as the planet heats up from the use of ever larger amounts of fossil fuels, scientists warned last week at the end of a major science meeting in Vancouver.
A forest fire in Indonesia that ignited peatlands in 1997 smouldered for months, releasing the equivalent of 20 to 40 percent of the worldwide fossil fuel emissions for the entire year, said Mike Flannigan, a forest researcher at the University of Alberta, Canada.
“There is the potential for significant releases of carbon and other greenhouse gases (from future peat fires),” Flannigan said.
If peat fires release large amounts of carbon, then temperatures will rise faster and higher, leading to further drying of forests and peat, and increasing the likelihood of fires in what is called a positive feedback, he said.
About half the world’s soil carbon is locked in northern permafrost and peatland soils, said Merritt Turetsky, an ecologist at Canada’s University of Guelph. This carbon has been accumulating for thousands of years, but fires can release much of this into the atmosphere rapidly, Turetsky said in a release.
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Keywords: Asia, carbon, Fire, forest fire, Northern Hemisphere, peatland, Science