August 12, 2011

Arctic fires endanger planet

Despite being normally associated with frigid temperatures and icy snow, a new study published in the journal Nature points to the Arctic tundra as a potential source of massive greenhouse gas emissions as warm, dry weather ignites underground flames.

An unprecedented wildfire, called the Anaktuvuk, already broke out in July 2007 in northern Alaska, burning more than 1,000 square kilometers before it was extinguished by snowfall in October.

With the fire consuming vast amounts of ancient underground peat materials it released more than 2 million tons of carbon, roughly equivalent to what the entire Arctic tundra absorbs in a year.

Research lead, Dr. Michelle Mack of the University of Florida in the USA warned that more fires like this could steeply accelerate global warming since, along with the released carbon, the blackened soil after the fire absorbs more solar energy than ever.

In Russia, which is covered by nearly two-thirds permafrost tundra, Andrei Bolov, head of the nation's Disaster Monitoring Department, has also stated that 30% of the permafrost could melt by mid-century, destabilizing transportation, building, and energy infrastructure in addition to releasing massive amounts of methane.

Dr. Mack, Mr. Bolov and all fellow scientists, our sincere thanks for this important information about Arctic tundra fires and global warming. May we all heed such urgent climate messages and adopt lifestyles that allow our planet to once again thrive.


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