Stress – In 2021, wildfires cleared the world’s carbon-rich snow forests.
This year, burning boreal forests released 1.76 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, researchers reported on March 2 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
That’s a new record for a country that accounts for about a third of the world’s carbon footprint. “It’s also roughly doubled emissions that year from aviation,” said earth system scientist Steven Davis of the University of California, Irvine. The trend, if it continues, threatens to make climate change more difficult to combat.
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Boreal forests are part of the taiga, a vast region that surrounds the Earth south of the Arctic Circle. Fires in tropical forests like the Amazon tend to get more attention because of their potential to contribute large amounts of warming gases to the atmosphere (SN: 9/28/17). But scientists estimate that on a per-area basis, boreal forests store about twice as much carbon in their trees and soil as tropical forests.
Climate change is causing the taiga to warm about twice as fast as the global average. And wildfires are spreading more widely across the country, releasing more carbon traps, which in turn can worsen climate change (SN: 5/19/21).
Davis and his colleagues analyzed satellite data on carbon emissions from boreal regions from 2000 to 2021. In 2021, emissions from boreal fires make up a whopping 23 percent of all CO.2 fires were launched around the world, researchers reported on March 3 Science. On the other hand, CO’2 Emissions within an average year from 2000 to 2021 were about 10 percent.
Record-breaking emissions coincided with widespread heat waves and droughts in Siberia and northern Canada, likely fueled by human-caused climate change.
There is no information yet as to whether 2022 will see a similar wave in emissions. But, says Davis, “it is not certain that there is much evidence that this testimony will last long.”
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