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 Massive impact crater from a kilometer-wide iron meteorite discovered in Greenland
15.11.2018 | Faculty of Science - University of Copenhagen

nachricht The unintended consequences of dams and reservoirs
14.11.2018 | Uppsala University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: UNH scientists help provide first-ever views of elusive energy explosion

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.

Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...

Im Focus: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Purdue cancer identity technology makes it easier to find a tumor's 'address'

16.11.2018 | Health and Medicine

Good preparation is half the digestion

16.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Microscope measures muscle weakness

16.11.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>