No Heat Without Fire
EMBARGOED UNTIL 1900 HOURS
WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 6
How wildfires contribute to global warming
international group of scientists led by Leicester researcher Dr Susan Page has
highlighted how forest fires contribute significantly to global warming through
the release of greenhouse gases.
research, published this week in the internationally renowned scientific journal
Nature, presents new insights into the effects of tropical forest and peatland
fires on global climate
Susan Page, of the Department of Geography, University of Leicester, and a team
of European and Indonesian scientists, used a combination of satellite-based
earth observation and intensive field data collection to estimate the amount of
the greenhouse gas CO2 released by fires in the forested and
deforested peatlands of Indonesia.
retrospective study evaluated the impact of the 1997/1998 El Niño driven fire
that time, fires destroyed huge areas of rainforest and peat soils in south-east
Asia, especially in Indonesia.
Page said: “It was the biggest fire catastrophe ever observed in that region.
A noxious, yellow cloud of haze extending 3000 x 5000 kilometres covered the
region for several months, affecting Indonesia, and neighbouring countries of
Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand.
The economic damage resulting from the smoke alone was estimated to
exceed two billion dollars, closing airports, closing down schools and offices
and disrupting trade. The polluting ‘haze’ also had a serious impact on
human health by increasing respiratory problems, especially amongst the young
their studies, the scientists focused on tropical peat swamp forest, a largely
unknown ecosystem that occurs on deep organic deposits that can exceed 12
to the high carbon content of these organic soils, surface fires spread
underground into the peat layer.
These fires are characterised by incomplete burning and produce huge
amounts of smoke and fine-particled ‘haze’.
Peat swamp forests represent approximately 40 per cent of the land area
in Indonesia that burned during the 1997/1998 fires.
The amount of carbon released into the atmosphere during that time is the
biggest ever measured and, at 0.81-2.57 Billion tonnes, corresponds to 13 to 40
percent of the annual global production by burning fossil fuels, such as oil,
coal and gas.
Page said: “Our work highlights the fact that tropical peatlands store huge
amounts of carbon that will continue to be released to the atmosphere as CO2
during future forest fires and land conversion from forest to agriculture.
Carbon dioxide is known to be responsible for the global warming of the
atmosphere of the earth.
Recurrent fires have, therefore, the threatening potential of making a
very significant contribution to this warming, particularly during El Niño
weather events, which lead to extended drought conditions throughout South-east
Asia and the Pacific region.”
Page added: “The data presented in Nature are as relevant as ever
because the forests in Indonesia have again been burning during this year’s
extended dry season, caused by a weak El Niño weather event.
Most fires are started for land clearance purposes, but during El Niño
years they rapidly spread out of control, consuming both vegetation and
underlying peat. The
combination of drought with poor land management practices, in particular
excessive logging and drainage of the peat swamps, have made this ecosystem very
susceptible to fire.
land use policies are changed to control land clearance by fire, then recurrent
fires will lead to a complete loss of Indonesia’s peat swamp forests and
continued, high emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere.”
scientists are demanding intensive national and international efforts to avoid
further fires in the tropical peat swamp forests and the promotion of
environmentally sustainable management of this sensitive ecosystem.
are asking politicians to act now,” said Dr Page.
TO NEWSDESK: Further
information and contacts:
Dr Susan Page
This document has been approved by the head of department or section.