Navigation Links
Drying intensifying wildfires, carbon release ninefold, study finds

Drying of northern wetlands has led to much more severe peatland wildfires and nine times as much carbon released into the atmosphere, according to new research led by a University of Guelph professor.

The study, published today in Nature Communications, is the first to investigate the effect of drainage on carbon accumulation in northern peatlands and the vulnerability of that carbon to burning.

"Russia, Indonesia and Canada all have abundant peatlands, but they also have been hotspots for intense peat fires in the past decade," said Guelph professor Merritt Turetsky, who worked on the study with William Donahue of the Water Matters Society of Alberta and Brian Benscoter from Florida Atlantic University.

In pristine states, peatlands often resist fire because of their wet soils. "Our study shows that when disturbance lowers the water table, that resistance disappears and peat becomes very flammable and vulnerable to deep burning," she said.

Recently, destructive peat fires plagued the Moscow region. In the late 1990s, severe Indonesian fires in drained peatlands released carbon equivalent to 40 per cent of annual global fossil fuel emissions.

"Our results demonstrate the importance of cumulative impacts," Turetsky said.

Peatlands store vast amounts of carbon by pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. For millennia, they've accumulated plant debris the remains of wood, moss, and other plants and locked it up in layers of saturated peat more than five metres deep in places.

Northern peat covers large swaths of the landscape. Because about half of that peat consists of carbon, it is a globally important carbon pool.

But peatlands are also carbon sources, as this same debris fuels wildfires. "While fire is a widely recognized disturbance in upland forests, the impacts of fire on peatlands and their carbon storage have been largely overlooked," said Benscoter.

The majority of the world's peatlands are located in northern regions, and Canada is home to some of the largest on the planet.

"The extensive deposits of peat in Canada are an important natural resource, but one that is being disturbed more often, not only by wildfire but also by human activities," Turetsky said. Previous studies have documented the effects of land use practices and global warming on the ecology of peatlands. "But we wanted to examine how decades of lowered water table in peatlands might affect wildfire behaviour, and that required a very large experiment."

To determine those effects, the researchers used a unique outdoor laboratory. A large section of a boreal fen near Slave Lake, Alta., had been drained over 20 years ago in a wetland drainage project. A portion of the fen including drained and pristine plots burned in a wildfire in 2001 allowed for a natural experiment.

Earlier research had documented increases in tree growth and carbon storage after drainage. "But nobody had looked at the impacts of dewatering on fire intensity and associated carbon gains or losses," Donohue said.

The results were surprising, he said. Long-term drainage actually increased tree productivity and carbon storage in the fen soils. But the lower water table also changed wildfire conditions, and losses of soil carbon to burning in the drained areas increased ninefold.

"Even though the organic matter accumulation doubled over two decades after drainage, severe burning triggered the complete loss of this newly stored carbon, plus a further 450 years' worth of peat accumulation," Donahue said.

"Currently, peatlands are considered important global stores for carbon. But we've shown that human disturbance or climate-induced drying can switch peatlands from sinks to potentially huge sources of carbon, with losses associated with severe burning far outweighing long-term rates of sequestration."

Contact: Prof. Merritt Turetsky, University of Guelph
519-824-4120 x56166
University of Guelph

Related biology news :

1. Land evapotranspiration taking unexpected turn: huge parts of world are drying up
2. Cutting carbon dioxide helps prevent drying
3. Carbon nanostructures form the future of electronics and optoelectronics
4. Growth in the global carbon budget
5. Carbon sinks: Issues, markets, policy
6. Carbon dioxide scrubber captures greenhouse gases
7. UNC study on properties of carbon nanotubes, water could have wide-ranging implications
8. Study: Tropical wetlands hold more carbon than temperate marshes
9. Diatom genome helps explain success in trapping excess carbon in oceans
10. Earthworm activity can alter forests carbon-carrying capabilities
11. Global warming predicted to hasten carbon release from peat bogs
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Drying intensifying wildfires, carbon release ninefold, study finds
(Date:10/29/2015)... ARBOR, Mich. , Oct. 29, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... Eurofins Genomics for U.S. distribution of its DNA ... DNA-seq kit and Rubicon,s new ThruPLEX Plasma-seq kit. ... to enable the preparation of NGS libraries for ... plasma for diagnostic and prognostic applications in cancer ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... , Oct. 27, 2015 In the present ... of concern for various industry verticals such as banking, ... to the growing demand for secure & simplified access ... ,sectors, such as hacking of bank accounts, misuse of ... equipment such as PC,s, laptops, and smartphones are expected ...
(Date:10/26/2015)... LAS VEGAS , Oct. 26, 2015 ... in modern authentication and a founding member of the ... its latest version of the Nok Nok™ S3 Authentication ... standards-based authentication that supports existing and emerging methods of ... ideal for organizations deploying customer-facing applications that require Internet ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... -- Clintrax Global, Inc., a worldwide provider of clinical research services headquartered ... the company has set a new quarterly earnings record in Q3 ... posted for Q3 of 2014 to Q3 of 2015.   ... , with the establishment of an Asia-Pacific ... United Kingdom and Mexico , with ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... ... The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), led by its Executive Council, has officially ... to represent the First–Person View (FPV) racing community. , FPV racing has exploded in ... racing and several new model aviation pilots have joined the community because of their ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... -- Tikcro Technologies Ltd. (OTCQB: TIKRF) today announced that its Annual General Meeting ... Israel time, at the law offices of ... th Floor, Tel Aviv, Israel . ... Izhak Tamir to the Board of Directors; , election of ... approval of an amendment to certain terms of options granted to our ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... In harsh industrial processes, the ... in-line sensors can represent a weak spot where leaking process media is a ... sensor housings , which are designed to tolerate extreme process conditions. They combine ...
Breaking Biology Technology: