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Forest Fires Largely Overlooked by Climate-Change Modelers

Source:  Copyright 2009, Bloomberg
Date:  April 24, 2009
Byline:  Jeremy van Loon
Original URL: Status ONLINE

Forest fires worsen global warming and make it harder for societies to adapt to drought and higher temperatures, scientists said.

Trees and brush set ablaze, by accident or through slash- and-burn farming in the tropics, fuel hotter weather, said Jennifer Balch, a researcher at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California. That’s because smoke adds more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

“We don’t think about fire correctly,” Balch said. “It’s very intrinsic to the planet.”

The emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas adding to global warming, are about equal to half the output from burning fossil fuels such as coal, Balch and colleagues wrote in a study published yesterday in the journal Science on the role of fire in the climate system.

Even so, the effect of fires doesn’t figure often enough in models that predict future global warming. New events and findings should be incorporated ...

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