The Arctic is burning like never before — and that’s bad news for climate change

The Arctic is burning like never before — and that’s bad news for climate change

SOURCE: Nature DATE: September 10, 2020 SNIP: Wildfires blazed along the Arctic Circle this summer, incinerating tundra, blanketing Siberian cities in smoke and capping the second extraordinary fire season in a row. By the time the fire season waned at the end of last month, the blazes had emitted a record 244 megatonnes of carbon dioxide — that’s 35% more than last year, which also set records. One culprit, scientists say, could be peatlands that are burning as the top of the world melts. Peatlands are carbon-rich soils that accumulate as waterlogged plants slowly decay, sometimes over thousands of years. They are the most carbon-dense ecosystems on Earth; a typical northern peatland packs in roughly ten times as much carbon as a boreal forest. When peat burns, it releases its ancient carbon to the atmosphere, adding to the heat-trapping gases that cause climate change. Nearly half the world’s peatland-stored carbon lies between 60 and 70 degrees north, along the Arctic Circle. The problem with this is that historically frozen carbon-rich soils are expected to thaw as the planet warms, making them even more vulnerable to wildfires and more likely to release large amounts of carbon. It’s a feedback loop: as peatlands release more carbon, global warming increases, which thaws more peat and causes more wildfires. A study published last month1 shows that northern peatlands could eventually shift from being a net sink for carbon to a net source of carbon, further accelerating climate change. The unprecedented Arctic wildfires of 2019 and 2020 show that transformational shifts are already under way, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London...
Climate change: Warming world will be ‘devastating’ for frozen peatlands

Climate change: Warming world will be ‘devastating’ for frozen peatlands

SOURCE: BBC News DATE: August 10, 2020 SNIP: The world’s peatlands will become a large source of greenhouse gases as temperatures rise this century, say scientists. Right now, huge amounts of carbon are stored in boggy, often frozen regions stretching across northern parts of the world. But much of the permanently frozen land will thaw this century, say experts. This will release warming gases at a rate that could be 30-50% greater than previous estimates. Stretching across vast regions of the northern half of the world, peatlands play an important role in the global climate system. Over thousands of years, they have accumulated large amounts of carbon and nitrogen, which has helped keep the Earth cool. Scientists, though, are keenly aware that peatlands – including the nearly half that are permanently frozen – are very vulnerable to rising temperatures. Using data compiled from more than 7,000 field observations, the authors of this new study were able to generate the most accurate maps to date of the peatlands, their depth and the amount of warming gases they contain. They show that the boggy terrain covers 3.7 million sq kilometres (1.42 million sq miles). The report authors say that their new estimate of the carbon emitted through thawing, and from losses of peat into rivers and streams, is 30-50% greater than in previous projections of carbon losses from permafrost thawing. If this new peatland estimate is included with all the estimates for permafrost melting, it is projected to equal the annual emissions of the EU and UK by...
NASA/NOAA Satellites Observe Surprisingly Rapid Increase in Scale and Intensity of Fires in Siberia

NASA/NOAA Satellites Observe Surprisingly Rapid Increase in Scale and Intensity of Fires in Siberia

SOURCE: NASA DATE: August 7, 2020 SNIP: Abnormally warm temperatures have spawned an intense fire season in eastern Siberia this summer. Satellite data show that fires have been more abundant, more widespread, and produced more carbon emissions than recent seasons. The area shown in the time-lapse sequence above includes the Sakha Republic, one of the most active fire regions in Siberia this summer. The images show smoke plumes billowing from July 30 to August 6, 2020, as observed by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on NASA/NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Strong winds occasionally carried the plumes as far as Alaska in late July. As of August 6, approximately 19 fires were burning in the province. “After the Arctic fires in 2019, the activity in 2020 was not so surprising through June,” said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. “What has been surprising is the rapid increase in the scale and intensity of the fires through July, largely driven by a large cluster of active fires in the northern Sakha Republic.” Estimates show that around half of the fires in Arctic Russia this year are burning through areas with peat soil—decomposed organic matter that is a large natural carbon source. Warm temperatures (such as the record-breaking heatwave in June) can thaw and dry frozen peatlands, making them highly flammable. Peat fires can burn longer than forest fires and release vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Parrington noted that fires in Arctic Russia released...
Plan to drain Congo peat bog for oil could release vast amount of carbon

Plan to drain Congo peat bog for oil could release vast amount of carbon

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: February 28, 2020 SNIP: The world’s largest tropical peatlands could be destroyed if plans go ahead to drill for oil under the Congo basin, according to an investigation that suggests draining the area would release the same amount of carbon dioxide as Japan emits annually. Preserving the Congo’s Cuvette Centrale peatlands, which are the size of England and store 30bn tonnes of carbon, is “absolutely essential” if there is any hope of meeting Paris climate agreement goals, scientists warn. However, this jungle is now the latest frontier for oil exploration, according to an investigation by Global Witness and the European Investigative Collaborations network that questions claims by developers that the oil deposit could contain 359m barrels of oil. The Cuvette Centrale forms part of the Congo basin, which is the world’s second largest tropical forest and one of the most remote areas in the world. This untouched region is waterlogged for most of the year and is an important habitat for endangered forest elephants and lowland gorillas. In 2017 it made headlines after scientists announced the discovery of 145,500 sq km (56,200 sq miles) of peatlands. They estimated it stored the equivalent of three years of global fossil fuel emissions, making it one of the greatest carbon sinks on the planet, according to a paper published in the journal Nature. But in August 2019, a Congolese company called Petroleum Exploration and Production Africa (Pepa) announced there were hundreds of millions of barrels of oil under the Cuvette Centrale. Exploiting this resource would quadruple the country’s oil production and sort out its debt-ridden finances, the company...
Major natural carbon sink may soon become a carbon source

Major natural carbon sink may soon become a carbon source

SOURCE: Purdue University DATE: November 19, 2018 SNIP: Ecosystems that host a carbon-dioxide rich type of soil called peat, known as peatlands, are the most efficient natural carbon sink on the planet. When undisturbed, they store more carbon dioxide than all other vegetation types on Earth combined. But when they’re drained and deforested, they can release nearly 6 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions each year. Climate researchers are worried that many of the peatlands soaking up carbon now will soon be doing the opposite. According to an earth systems model spanning from 12,000 years ago to 2100 AD, peatlands in the Peruvian Amazon could lose up to 500 million tons of carbon by the end of this century. That’s about 5 percent of current global annual fossil fuel carbon emissions, or 10 percent of U.S. emissions, being spit back out into the atmosphere. By most estimates, South America will become both warmer and wetter by the end of the century. The research shows that higher temperatures lead to more peat carbon loss, while increased precipitation slightly enhances the build-up of peat carbon over long timescales. Together, this is likely to increase carbon loss from peatlands to the atmosphere. “If the area we looked at could represent the whole Amazonia or tropical peatlands, the loss of peat carbon to the atmosphere under future climate scenarios should be of great concern to our society,” Qianlai Zhuang, a professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue University said. “Agricultural intensification and increasing land-use disturbances, such as forest fires, threaten the persistence of peat carbon stocks. These peatland ecosystems may turn...