Equatorial Asia: Drought & land clearing fires feed off each other

In 2006, the climate on the fast-developing islands of Borneo and
Sumatra and in New Guinea and other parts of equatorial Asia was three
times drier than in 2000, but carbon emissions from deforestation were
30 times greater – exceeding emissions from fossil fuel burning. “Land
managers respond to the drought by using fire to clear more land. In
dry years, they burn deeper into the forest, which in turn releases
more carbon dioxide,” said James Randerson, climate scientist at UCI
and co-author of the study, published online the week of Dec. 8 in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings,
Randerson says, illustrate why limits on deforestation should be a
critical part of future climate agreements. Global warming modelers
typically consider climate and land use separately when assessing how
changes will affect greenhouse gas emissions. The results also
indicate that forecasting drought may be important when countries in
this region allocate resources to combat illegally set fires and
clearing. “The link between drought and deforestation is very
sensitive,” Randerson said. “If the climate warms and there are more
droughts, it potentially makes the forest and its stored carbon more
vulnerable.” Equatorial Asia is a hot spot for biodiversity but is
undergoing widespread changes. Its global markets are growing, as is
large-scale agricultural business. Forests and peatlands in the region
store tremendous amounts of carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere
where it can turn into carbon dioxide and create warming. The climate
in equatorial Asia changes substantially from year to year and is
linked with El Nino. Dry years occurred in 2002 and 2006; wet years in
2000 and 2005. In a dry climate, fires are easier to set and burn more
deeply into organic soil. “When there is a lot of rainfall, fires
don’t burn as well, and it is more challenging to remove debris from
areas that are being converted to agriculture,” said Randerson,
associate professor of Earth system science.

— Posted to http://forestpolicyresearch.com via gmail to posterous and
also to forestpolicyresearch@yahoogroups.com

Posted via email from Deane’s posterous

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