Monday, April 6, 2015

Northern fires caused almost a quarter of global forest loss, contributed to global carbon emissions

Karl Mathiesen in the Guardian (UK): Vast areas of forest in Canada and Russia were lost to fire in 2013, according to new satellite data. But there were encouraging signs from Indonesia, where the loss of forest cover fell to the lowest level in a decade.

Scientists from Global Forest Watch collated 400,000 images of the Earth’s surface to map the world’s forests down to a resolution of 30 metres. Their findings showed that overall the world lost 18m hectares of forest in 2013.

Between 2011 and 2013 fires in the boreal forests of Canada and Russia accounted for almost a quarter of global forest losses. Some of this will return, but northern forests are particularly slow to recover after fire.

Boreal forests are one of the world’s great carbon sinks. But scientists predict that climate change will cause them to burn more often and with greater intensity, unlocking the carbon stored in the wood and soil. Already they are burning more than at any point in the past 10,000 years.

Dr Nigel Sizer, study co-author and director of the forests programme for the World Resources Institute (WRI), said the increase of fires in northern forests had worrying implications for the climate. “If global warming is leading to more fires in boreal forests, which in turn leads to more emissions from those forests, which in turn leads to more climate change. This is one of those positive feedback loops that should be of great concern to policy makers.”...

A 2012 wild fire in Siberia, shot by Савин Игорь Игоревич, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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