Wildland fires are taking tons of carbon out of storage and feeding it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, a primary greenhouse gas. Drought makes things worse, stunting tree growth and turning forests into tinderboxes. And when human activity disturbs the environment, the ability of forests to store carbon is further diminished.
These are some of the preliminary findings from computer modeling studies of the Colorado wildfires of 2002 being presented in San Francisco, December 6–10, at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). A team of researchers from Colorado State University (Fort Collins), the U.S. Geological Survey (Denver), and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR, Boulder) conducted the research.
"Were using the western U.S. as a case study area where climate and land use are interacting in several interesting ways," says NCAR senior scientist David Schimel, whos been collaborating with Dennis Ojima (CSU) and Jason Neff (USGS) on the project. Western lands—especially the evergreen forests—represent roughly half of U.S. carbon storage. Changes in land use, fire suppression strategies, and climate all have potential to increase wildland fires.
Zhenya Gallon | EurekAlert!
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