Russia's Peatland Fires May Continue Burning Underground Through Winter


photo: praegerr via flickr

Burning for some weeks now, the fires in Russia are not only causing Moscow's daily death rate to double as smog engulfs the city, but are also emitting tons of greenhouse gas emissions as drained peatlands burn. What's worse, Reuters reports, is they could burn for months after the heatwave ends, despite efforts to extinguish them.Hans Joosten, a professor of peatland studies and paleoecology at Germany's University of Greifswald says, "Peat fires continue underground and...they will not be extinguished in Russia before winter rains and snow set in." Joosten cites a peat fire in South Africa that continued burning underground for five years before finally being extinguished.

In fact, based on comments from a scientist with the Finnish Forestry Institute, even winter may not do the job. "In Russia, peat fires can sometimes last under snow cover through the winter," Ilkka Vanha-Majamaa says.

European Drained Peatland Emits 25 Tons CO2 per Hectare
Since peat stores such high amounts of carbon--it's basically compacted and compacted and compacted partially decayed vegetation--both draining peatlands as well as burning them releases the stored carbon into the atmosphere.

This is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions. Due to deforestation and the resultant draining of peatlands, Indonesia is the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, if this source of emissions is included in the national total--back in 2005 Indonesian peat fires accounted for one-seventh of all CO2 emissions in the world. Russia comes in right after Indonesia in this regard, both in international rankings of greenhouse gas emissions and in area of peatland cleared annually.

In central Europe a hectare of drained peatland emits about 25 tons of CO2 per year as the peat oxidizes upon expose to air.

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More on Greenhouse Gas Emissions:
Moscow Engulfed in Peat Smoke As City's Record-Breaking Heat Sets Off Fires
Russia's Plans for Mining Peat for Energy are Environmental Disaster
Major Asian Paper Corps Undermine Indonesia's Carbon Emission Reduction Commitments
Indonesian Peat Burning Emits 1/7th of Global CO2

Tags: Carbon Emissions | Global Climate Change | Natural Disasters | Russia

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