Forests “could stop being CO2 sinks”

Bushfires that have scorched the southern Australian state of Victoria released millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide, a top scientist told Reuters, and forest fires could become a growing source of carbon pollution as the earth warms. Mark Adams of the University of Sydney said climate change could trigger a vicious cycle in which forests could stop becoming sinks of carbon dioxide (CO2).


Such a development, he said, could further accelerate the rise of the planet-warming gas in the atmosphere. Rising CO2 levels, higher temperatures and reduced rainfall in many forested areas are all matters of increasing concern, and “we could well see much greater emissions from forest fires,” said Adams. Dean of the university’s faculty of agriculture, food and natural resources, he has worked in collaboration with the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre.


“Scientists worldwide are worried about fires and forests,” said Adams. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the Arctic tundra fires, or peat fires in Kalimantan [in Borneo] or bushfires in Australia.”


In a 2008 submission to the United Nations, the Australian government said wildfires in 2003 released CO2-equivalent gases that were roughly equal to one-third of the nation’s total emissions for the year. Such large, one-time releases of CO2 and other greenhouse gases — such as methane — are not accounted for in Australia’s annual list of its greenhouse-gas emissions.


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