Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Northern wildfires threaten runaway climate change, study reveals

06.12.2010
A new study discovers climate change is causing wildfires to burn more fiercely, pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than previously thought

Climate change is causing wildfires to burn more fiercely, pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than previously thought, according to a new study to be published in Nature Geosciences this week.

This is the first study to reveal that fires in the Alaskan interior - an area spanning 18.5 million hectares - have become more severe in the past 10 years, and have released much more carbon into the atmosphere than was stored by the region's forests over the same period.

"When most people think of wildfires, they think about trees burning, but most of what fuels a boreal fire is plant litter, moss and organic matter in surface soils," said University of Guelph professor Merritt Turetsky, lead author of the study.

"These findings are worrisome because about half the world's soil carbon is locked in northern permafrost and peatland soils. This is carbon that has accumulated in ecosystems a little bit at a time for thousands of years, but is being released very rapidly through increased burning."

The results of this study are important for countries currently meeting in Mexico for climate talks, added the integrative biology professor.

"Essentially this could represent a runaway climate change scenario in which warming is leading to larger and more intense fires, releasing more greenhouse gases and resulting in more warming. This cycle can be broken for a number of reasons, but likely not without dramatic changes to the boreal forest as we currently know it."

This study is part of a growing body of evidence that northern systems are bearing the brunt of climate change, said co-author Jennifer Harden, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist.

"This includes longer snow-free seasons, changes in vegetation, loss of ice and permafrost, and now fire, which is shifting these systems from a global carbon sink toward a carbon source."

The researchers visited almost 200 forest and peatland sites shortly after blazes were extinguished to measure how much biomass burnt.

"We've been chasing fires in this region for a number of years, which is how we amassed this unique data set," said Turetsky.

They also looked at fire records kept since the 1950s.

"Over the past 10 years, burned area has doubled in interior Alaska, mostly because of increased burning late in the fire season," said co-author Eric Kasischke, a University of Maryland professor. "This is the first study that has demonstrated that increases in burned area are clearly linked to increases in fire severity. This not only impacts carbon storage, but also will accelerate permafrost loss and changes in forest cover."

More severe burning also raises a number of health concerns, as fire emissions contain mercury and particulate matter that can cause respiratory issues, said Turetsky.

"We are hoping people will recognize the seriousness of climate change for northern regions and people living in them. Wildfire is going to play a more and more important role in shaping the north."

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or lhunt@uoguelph.ca, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982 or dhealey@uoguelph.ca.

Lead author and contact:

Merritt Turetsky
University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada
mrt@uoguelph.ca
519-824-4120 ext 56166
Additional contacts:
Jennifer Harden
U.S. Geological Survey, California, U.S.
jharden@usgs.gov
650-329-4949
Eric Kasischke
University of Maryland, Maryland, U.S.
ekasisch@umd.edu
301-405-2179
Roger Ottmar
U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Washington, U.S.
rottmar@fs.fed.us
206-732-7826
Participating Institutions:
University of Guelph
University of Maryland
U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station
Michigan Technological University

Deirdre Healey | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uoguelph.ca

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Predicting unpredictability: Information theory offers new way to read ice cores
07.12.2016 | Santa Fe Institute

nachricht Sea ice hit record lows in November
07.12.2016 | University of Colorado at Boulder

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>