Brussels, 11 Nov 2002
Scientists from Europe and Indonesia have used imagery from ESA and NASA satellites to measure the impact of the 1997-98 bushfires in Indonesia, and conclude that they contributed greatly to the largest annual increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide since records began.
The researchers from the United Kingdom, Germany and Indonesia calculated that the fires released up to 2.57 gigatonnes of carbon, 40 per cent of the mean annual carbon emissions from fossil fuels. According to the team's results, published in this week's Nature magazine, the main reason for such high figures was the partial burning of carbon-rich peat swamps, which produced huge amounts of smoke and fine particles.
Drought conditions cased by the El Niño climate phenomena led to 'managed' forest clearing fires in the area burning out of control. The resulting blazes produced a noxious cloud of haze measuring 15 million square kilometres that covered the area for months.
Dr Florian Siegert of Remote Sensing Solutions, one of the research partners, warns that a similar catastrophe could happen again. 'The forests in Indonesia have again been burning during this year's extended dry season, caused by a weak El Niño weather event. Unfortunately the world does not pay attention to that,' he said.
The study highlights the impact that the burning of tropical peat stores during land clearing fires can have on carbon dioxide emissions. CO2 is one of the main 'greenhouse gases' responsible for global warming. Based on the results of the study, it is obvious that large-scale fires such as these have the potential to make a significant contribution to climate change.
For further information, please consult the following web address: http://www.esa.int/export/esaCP/ESAOB177 08D_index_0.html