Earth Science News  





. US Fires Release Large Amounts Of Carbon Dioxide

Preliminary estimates indicate that the fires emitted 7.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in just the one-week period of October 19-26, the equivalent of about 25 percent of the average monthly emissions from all fossil fuel burning throughout California.
by Staff Writers
Boulder CO (SPX) Nov 06, 2007
Large-scale fires in a western or southeastern state can pump as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in a few weeks as the state's entire motor vehicle traffic does in a year, according to newly published research by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The paper, "Estimates of CO2 from fires in the United States: implications for carbon management," is being published online today in the journal "Carbon Balance and Management." NCAR's portion of the research was supported by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's principal sponsor.

The authors, Christine Wiedinmyer of NCAR and Jason Neff of the University of Colorado, used satellite observations of fires and a new computer model, developed by Wiedinmyer, that estimates carbon dioxide emissions based on the mass of vegetation burned. They caution that their estimates have a margin of error of about 50 percent, both because of inexact data about the extent of fires and varying estimates of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by different types of blazes.

Overall, the study estimates that fires in the contiguous United States and Alaska release about 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, which is the equivalent of 4 to 6 percent of the nation's carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning. But fires contribute a higher proportion of the potent greenhouse gas in several western and southeastern states, especially Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Washington, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Arizona. Particularly large fires can release enormous pulses of carbon dioxide rapidly into the atmosphere.

"A striking implication of very large wildfires is that a severe fire season lasting only one or two months can release as much carbon as the annual emissions from the entire transportation or energy sector of an individual state," the authors write.

California fires

Although last week's fires in southern California broke out after the paper was written, Wiedinmyer applied the new computer model to analyze their emissions. Her preliminary estimates indicate that the fires emitted 7.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in just the one-week period of October 19-26, the equivalent of about 25 percent of the average monthly emissions from all fossil fuel burning throughout California.

"Enormous fires like this pump a large amount of carbon dioxide quickly into the atmosphere," Wiedinmyer says. "This can complicate efforts to understand our carbon budget and ultimately fight global warming."

Challenge for policymakers

Carbon dioxide emissions from fires pose a significant challenge as policymakers focus on limiting greenhouse gases because of concerns over climate change. Some jurisdictions, such as California, have not yet decided whether to include wildfire emissions when setting targets to reduce greenhouse gases.

The impacts of fires on climate change are complex and difficult to predict. Long after a fire sweeps through an area, new vegetation over the course of several decades to a century may absorb as much carbon dioxide as was released during the blaze. But fires are likely to become more frequent and widespread as temperatures warm around much of the globe, which means that more carbon dioxide may be released into the atmosphere. The fires could complicate government efforts to rely on forests to help absorb carbon dioxide.

"The fires that are burning today in the United States are part of the legacy of the past century of fire suppression," says Neff, an assistant professor of environmental studies. "Our attempts to control fire have had the unintended benefit of sequestering more carbon in our forests and reducing the impact of human combustion of fossil fuels. But as these forests now begin to burn, that stored twentieth century carbon is moving back into the atmosphere, where it may compound our current problems with CO2."

The new study found that evergreen forests in the South and West are the dominant U.S. sources for carbon dioxide emissions from fires. Fires in grasslands and agricultural areas, where vegetation is less dense, emit far less carbon dioxide. The extent of U.S. fires varies widely from year to year, but typically the emissions have a small peak in the spring from fires in the southeastern and central United States, and a larger peak in the summer during the fire season in the West.

Community
Email This Article
Comment On This Article

Related Links
Forest and Wild Fires - News, Science and Technology




Tempur-Pedic Mattress Comparison

Newsletters :: SpaceDaily Express :: SpaceWar Express :: TerraDaily Express :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News
Schwarzenegger warns of new fire threat as winds loom
Los Angeles (AFP) Oct 31, 2007
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday ordered firefighters to prepare for renewed wildfires ahead of powerful flame-fuelling gusts forecast for next weekend.

.
Get Our Free Newsletters Via Email
  



  • Anger rises in flood-stricken southern Mexico
  • Hungry Mexico flood victims turn to looting
  • Northrop Grumman Wins Two Contracts For AN/APN-241 Radar Program
  • Triage Study Challenges Notions of Emergency Medical Response To Disaster

  • Drought in southeast US fuels battle over water resources
  • Climate controversy heats up Australian election
  • Like It Or Not, Uncertainty And Climate Change Go Hand-In-Hand
  • White House defends 'health benefits' of climate change

  • Vacation Photos Create 3D Models Of World Landmarks
  • NASA Data May Help Improve Estimates Of A Hurricane's Punch
  • DMCii Satellite Imaging Helps Dramatically Reduce Deforestation Of Amazon Basin
  • NASA Views Southern California Fires And Winds

  • Russian Tankers Heading For The Arctic
  • Deal On Oil Pipeline Leg To China Won't Be Reached In Moscow
  • Analysis: Chinese arms and African oil
  • EU debates common energy strategy

  • Deadly HIV-TB co-epidemic sweeps sub-Saharan Africa: report
  • Northwestern Exposing Most Deadly Infectious Diseases In 3D
  • Staph-Killing Properties Of Clay Investigated
  • AIDS stunting southern Africa's prospects: Malawi president

  • Earliest Birds Acted More Like Turkeys Than Common Cuckoos
  • Scientists Find Risk Distribution Law For Evolution
  • Divers Find New Species In Aleutians
  • Flying Lemurs Are The Closest Relatives Of Primates

  • Cairo tries to escape life under a black cloud
  • Massive pollution in Yangtze river can be reversed: scientists
  • US Faces Burning Emissions Issue
  • Birth defects soar in polluted China

  • Computers Learn Art Appreciation
  • Research Project May Revolutionize Apparel Industry
  • World Toilet Summit opens in India
  • Europeans face mob anger over child 'abductions' in Chad

  • The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2007 - SpaceDaily.AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement