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ENVIRONMENT REPORT– Wildfires Blamed For Climate - 2002-12-19

Broadcast: December 20, 2002

This is the VOA Special English Environment Report.

A new study has found that major forest fires can influence climate changes. The study showed that some wildfires release large amounts of carbon dioxide gas. Many scientists have blamed carbon dioxide and industrial gases for rising temperatures in Earth’s atmosphere.

A team led by Susan Page of the University of Leicester in Britain organized the new study. Her team says large amounts of carbon dioxide entered the atmosphere after the huge forest fires in Indonesia in nineteen-ninety-seven. The study says the forest fires were a major cause of the biggest increase in carbon dioxide levels since record-keeping began in nineteen-fifty-seven.

The fires destroyed almost one-million hectares of forest land. The fires produced thick smoke across much of Southeast Asia.

Farmers and developers in parts of Indonesia often start fires to clear land for development. Reports say the fires in Indonesia were made worse by drier than normal weather.

Mizz Page’s team studied satellite images of a two-million-five-hundred-thousand hectare area of Borneo island. The images were taken before and after the fires to study their effects.

Her team found that thirty-two percent of the land area had burned. Most of the affected land was made of peat, which is the remains of plants on the bottom of the forest. The study found that the peat burned to a level of almost one-meter deep in some areas.

The scientists say the fires released as much as two-thousand-million tons of carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere. They say that is equal to as much as forty percent of the carbon dioxide released by burning coal, oil and natural gas each year around the world. The scientists warned that the continued use of fires to clear land would lead to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere unless policies are changed.

The British publication Nature described the study. A separate study by an Australian research team in the publication Global Biogeochemical Cycles confirmed the findings.

Scientists with the United States National Center for Atmospheric Research wrote a commentary published with the Nature study. They said serious events affecting small areas can have a major effect on the release of carbon dioxide in the world.

This VOA Special English Environment Report was written by George Grow.