Saturday, January 30, 2010

Study revises forest fire carbon estimate

Susan Palmer in the Register-Guard (Oregon): Pacific Northwest forest fires may play a minor role in climate change compared with fossil fuel use, according to a new analysis by Oregon State University researchers. In a study conducted in the area of the B&B Complex fire that ravaged 92,000 highly visible acres along Highway 20 over Santiam Pass in 2003, scientists concluded that previous estimates suggesting the fire produced six times more carbon emissions than all other sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon during that period were grossly off the mark.

Beverly Law, a professor of forest ecosystems and society at OSU, and her fellow researchers concluded that carbon emissions from four fires that burned in the Metolius River area in 2002 and 2003 produced just 2.5 percent of the state's annual carbon emissions in both those years.

The research, published in the December 2009 issue of the journal Ecosystems, also said that most of the carbon released during the wildfires came from burning on the forest floor rather than the trees themselves, and that quick regrowth of brush and grasses, which absorb more carbon than they release, helps mitigate the greenhouse-gas effects of fire.

Law and others have been studying the impacts of forests on greenhouse gases for well over a decade to understand the role of people and nature on climate change. Their conclusion: Even though a forest fire, with is towering plumes of smoke, may look like it is giving off vast amounts of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, the people of Oregon give off far more of the gases as they drive and do other activities that burn fossil fuels…..

Smoke from a wildfire near Devil's Backbone, Oregon, shot by Wing-Chi Poon, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

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