Northern fires have released nearly twice as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as global aviation by 2021

Wildfires – themselves a consequence of global warming – threaten to make it even more difficult to stop climate change.

In 2021, the overgrown boreal forests of North America and Eurasia will emit about 1.76 billion tons of carbon dioxide. American researchers write about it in the journal Sciences. It’s a new record that may not last long.

An increase in forest fires
In recent years, we have been increasingly startled by wildfires in the subarctic region, such as in Siberia and northern Canada. Not only are many plants lost, but large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) are also released.

He increases
Carbon dioxide emissions traceable to boreal wildfires have increased gradually since 2000, but peaked in 2021, according to new measurements. That year, wildfires released at least 150% more carbon dioxide than was released on average on an annual basis between 2000 and 2021 by burning vegetation. “According to our measurements, the 2021 fires broke previous records,” said researcher Stephen Davis. Northern fires have produced nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as global aviation by 2021.

Climate change
The fact that fires are burning increasingly in the subarctic region — often uninhabited or barely populated — might seem like something we have very little to do with. But nothing is less true. Because fires – through their associated carbon dioxide emissions – not only contribute to global warming, but are also a direct consequence of it. Due to global warming, temperatures are rising in the subarctic region and droughts are also increasing. Under these conditions, fires can start and grow more easily, after which more carbon dioxide is released again, so the conditions for starting and sustaining forest fires will become more favorable. “The upsurge in boreal forest fires is expected to accelerate the release of carbon stored in permafrost and contribute to the northward expansion of shrublands,” says researcher Yang Chen. “This, in turn, could lead to further warming and create a climate more conducive to wildfires.”

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It’s worrying. Just like the record emissions already recorded by wildfires in 2021. “If these emissions (…) become the new normal, it will be more difficult than expected to stabilize the Earth’s climate,” Davis said. About 80 percent of these carbon dioxide emissions would be absorbed by vegetation regrowth, but 20 percent would almost permanently disappear into the atmosphere. So people have to find ways to remove that carbon from the air or dramatically reduce our atmospheric CO2 production.”

Did you know…
… Scientists predicted a huge increase in wildfires last year? Concretely, the number of wildfires worldwide could have increased by up to 50 percent by the year 2100. Not only are the number of wildfires increasing, but they are also expected to become more intense.

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