This type of fire emits up to THREE times more greenhouse gasses than previously believed
By Gwyn Wright via SWNS
Peatland fires emit up to three times more greenhouse gasses than previously thought, according to a new study.
Devastating forest fires in Brazil and Indonesia accounted for three and seven percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 and 2020, say scientists.
Researchers estimate that between 40 percent and 60 percent of the gas let out into the atmosphere during those fires came from peatlands.
Forest fires, including forest fires in both countries and wildfires in the United States and Australia, accounted for ten to fifteen percent of global emissions in 2019 and 2020.
In Brazil, 11,088 square kilometers of forest were destroyed by blazes in just a year between August 2019 and July 2020, while Indonesia lost a shocking 31,000 square kilometers of forest to fires.
Many of these fires raged in carbon-rich peatlands.
For the study, researchers worked out the volume of emissions from deforestation fires in Brazil and Indonesia in both years and then examined the share of emissions coming from peatland fires.
They used publicly available data to work out the impact of fires, including from above-ground biomass as well as peat soils and dry matter in peatlands.
Both countries emitted almost two gigatons of greenhouse gasses between them in 2019 and one gigaton in 2020 from the burning of above-ground biomass.
When the researchers added on the greenhouse gas impacts from peatland fires, the amount increased to 3.65 gigatons in 2019 and 1.89 gigatons in 2020.
Peatland fires mainly burn underground, making their effects difficult to measure.
Using data based only on satellite measurements gives a partial picture of the emission impact of deforestation fires in peatlands, which in turn has an impact on climate policy.
The researchers say there needs to be a better mapping of peatland ecosystems and peatland fires, and say researchers should take measurements on the ground before and after fires so their effects can be better understood and mapped.
Study corresponding author Dr. Ramanan Krishnamoorti said: “The impact that human activities are causing in forests, especially in critical ecosystems like peatlands, is not well communicated to the general public.
“During the 2019 fire season in Indonesia and Brazil, we observed a wide range of numbers being quoted in scientific and media communications.
“We wanted to understand the basis of these numbers but ran into challenges accessing the data. That led us to analyze the sources of measurement and errors, how the errors are compounded over time, and their impact on policies.
“Monitoring and measurement challenges in peatlands lead to an underestimation of the true impact of deforestation fires.
“Since these estimates form the basis of the policy response from national governments, it results in inadequate attention to forest and peatland protection as part of climate crisis mitigation efforts.”
Peatlands cover just three percent of the world’s landmass but they are the world’s biggest carbon sink, storing the gas across 180 countries.
Despite their importance in slowing down climate change, 15 percent of the world’s known peatlands have been irreversibly damaged or are undergoing extreme degradation due to human activity.
When peatlands burn, carbon dioxide gets released into the atmosphere alongside other toxic gasses such as carbon monoxide and methane.
The smoke plumes which follow cause air pollution which damages human health and wildlife.
The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Climate.
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