New research has shown thatthe forest fires which ravaged South East Asia five years ago caused a massiveincrease in levels of the greenhouse gases which cause global warming. Scientists from Indonesia and Europe believe that 2.6 million tons of carbonentered the atmosphere after the fires in Indonesia – contributing to thebiggest annual increase in carbon emissions since records began. Almost a million hectares of forest were destroyed in the fires, mainly inBorneo and Sumatra, which produced a choking smog across much of southeastAsia. It’s thought they were sparked off by loggers, industrialists and farmers after the failure of seasonal rains created ideal conditions for a blaze.
Land clearance blamed The scientists, whose research is published in Nature, also found that most of the carbon did not come from burnt trees but from smouldering deposits of peat. Tropical peatlands store huge amounts of carbon which, the scientists say, couldbe released by forest fires in the future. “Carbon dioxide is known to be responsible for the global warming of theatmosphere of the earth,” said the head of the team of scientists, Dr SusanPage, from the University of Leicester in the UK. “Recurrent fires have, therefore, the threatening potential of making avery significant contribution to this warming.” Carbon produced by the fires accounted for 13%-40% of that year’s totalworldwide emissions – produced by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, coaland gas. The scientists warned that the continued use of fire as a means of clearing landwould lead to higher emissions of carbon dioxide unless policies are changed. The Indonesian fires five years ago were set off when timber and plantationcompanies tried to clear land. The fires then spread due to a prolonged drought blamed on the El Nino weatherphenomenon. El Nino is a swell of warm water in the Pacific Ocean that affects globalweather patterns. Dr Page’s team worked in the Central Kalimantan province of Borneo, where 8,000square kilometres of swamp forest was scorched. They used satellite data to estimate the amount of carbon released by thewildfires.