Tag Archives: greenhouse gases

New Scientist special about what we do/don't know about Climate change

Climate change: What we do – and don’t – know – New Scientist.

(Image: Maria Stenzel)

There is much we do not understand about Earth’s climate. That is hardly surprising, given the complex interplay of physical, chemical and biological processes that determines what happens on our planet’s surface and in its atmosphere.

Despite this, we can be certain about some things. For a start, the planet is warming, and human activity is largely responsible. But how much is Earth on course to warm by? What will the global and local effects be? How will it affect our lives?Watch movie online A Cure for Wellness (2017)

In these articles, Michael Le Page sifts through the evidence to provide a brief guide to what we currently do – and don’t – know about the planet’s most burning issue.

KNOW

Greenhouse gases are warming the planet

From melting glaciers and earlier springs to advancing treelines and changing animal ranges, many lines of evidence back up what thermometers tell us
Read more

DON’T KNOW

How high greenhouse gas levels will rise

We can’t say how much Earth will warm over the coming years unless we know how much more greenhouse gas will end up in the atmosphere
Read more

KNOW

Other pollutants are cooling the planet

We pump all kinds of substances into the atmosphere. Some of them reflect the sun’s heat back into space and so cool things down
Read more

DON’T KNOW

How great our cooling effects are

Pollutants that form minute droplets in the atmosphere have horrendously complex effects – so it’s far from certain what they mean for global warming
Read more

KNOW

The planet is going to get a lot hotter

Extra carbon dioxide means a warmer world – and then positive feedback effects from things like water vapour and ice loss will make it warmer still
Read more

DON’T KNOW

Just how much hotter things will get

On current trends the temperature rise could exceed 4 °C as early as the 2060s. But even that could be an underestimate
Read more

DON’T KNOW

How things will change in each region

Which regions are going to turn into tropical paradises? Which into unbearably humid hellholes? It would be useful to know. Unfortunately, we don’t
Read more

KNOW

Sea level is going to rise many metres

Studies of past climate indicate each 1 °C rise in the global mean temperature eventually leads to a 20-metre rise in sea level
Read more

DON’T KNOW

How quickly sea level will rise

Do we have time to get temperatures back down before seas rise by more than a few metres? We have little clue how much room we have for manoeuvre
Read more

DON’T KNOW

How serious the threat to life is

The problem for the plants, animals and people living today is that they and we have adapted to the unusually stable climate of the past few thousand years
Read more

KNOW

There will be more floods and droughts

Warm air holds more moisture. This means more rain or snow overall, and more intense rain or snowfall on average
Read more

DON’T KNOW

Will there be more hurricanes and the like?

A wetter atmosphere will provide more of the fuel that powers extreme events like hurricanes, but it is not clear how often this fuel will be ignited
Read more

DON’T KNOW

If and when tipping points will come

The Amazon could become grassland. Massive amounts of methane could be released from undersea hydrates. And we may not realise in time to do anything about it
Read more

Streaming Movie Split (2017) Online

Poster Movie Split 2017

Split (2017) HD

Director : M. Night Shyamalan.
Writer : M. Night Shyamalan.
Producer : Mark Bienstock, Jason Blum, M. Night Shyamalan.
Release : January 19, 2017
Country : United States of America.
Production Company : Universal Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Blinding Edge Pictures.
Language : English.
Runtime : 117 min.
Genre : Horror, Thriller.

Movie ‘Split’ was released in January 19, 2017 in genre Horror. M. Night Shyamalan was directed this movie and starring by James McAvoy. This movie tell story about Though Kevin has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher, there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey, Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him—as well as everyone around him—as the walls between his compartments shatter apart.

Streaming Movie Split (2017) Online

Do not miss to Watch movie Split (2017) Online for free with your family. only 2 step you can Watch or download this movie with high quality video. Come and join us! because very much movie can you watch free streaming.

Download Full Movie Split (2017)

Incoming search term :

film Split 2017 streaming, Split 2017 English Full Episodes Free Download, Split 2017 Full Episode, film Split trailer, Watch Split 2017 Online Viooz, live streaming film Split, Split 2017 English Full Episodes Watch Online, Split 2017 movie, watch full Split movie online, movie Split streaming, Split 2017 Episodes Watch Online, Split 2017 film trailer, Watch Split 2017 Online Free putlocker, Split 2017 Online Free Megashare, Split 2017 English Full Episodes Download, Watch Split 2017 Online Free, live streaming film Split 2017 online, Split 2017 For Free online, Split 2017 English Episodes Free Watch Online, Split 2017 English Episodes, movie Split 2017 trailer, Watch Split 2017 Online Putlocker, trailer movie Split 2017, Split 2017 Full Episodes Online, Split 2017 For Free Online, Split 2017 HD Full Episodes Online, Split 2017 streaming, Split movie streaming, Split film, Split 2017 Full Episodes Watch Online, download full film Split 2017, watch movie Split 2017 now, Watch Split 2017 Online Free Putlocker, Watch Split 2017 Online Megashare, Split 2017 English Full Episodes Online Free Download, Watch Split 2017 Online Free Viooz, Split 2017 English Episode, watch Split 2017 film now, film Split 2017 download, watch full Split film, watch full movie Split 2017 online, Watch Split 2017 Online Free megashare, Split 2017 Episodes Online, Split 2017 Watch Online, trailer film Split 2017, watch full film Split, Split 2017 HD English Full Episodes Download,

Engineers can build a low-carbon world if we let them

Engineers can build a low-carbon world if we let them – opinion – 26 September 2011 – New Scientist.

The engineering solutions to combat climate change already exist. Politicians must be brave enough to use them before it’s too late

One word sums up the attitude of engineers towards climate change: frustration. Political inertia following the high-profile failure of 2009’s Copenhagen climate conference has coupled with a chorus of criticism from a vocal minority of climate-change sceptics. Add the current economic challenges and the picture looks bleak. Our planet is warming and we are doing woefully little to prevent it getting worse.

Engineers know there is so much more that we could do. While the world’s politicians have been locked in predominantly fruitless talks, engineers have been developing the technologies we need to bring down emissions and help create a more stable future.

Wind, wave and solar power, zero-emissions transport, low-carbon buildings and energy-efficiency technologies have all been shown feasible. To be rolled out on a global scale, they are just waiting for the political will. Various models, such as the European Climate Foundation’s Roadmap 2050, show that implementing these existing technologies would bring about an 85 per cent drop in carbon emissions by 2050. The idea that we need silver-bullet technologies to be developed before the green technology revolution can happen is a myth. The revolution is waiting to begin.

Climate call

The barriers preventing the creation of a low-carbon society are not technological but political and financial. That’s why at a landmark London conference convened by the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 11 national engineering institutions representing 1.2 million engineers from across the globe, under the banner of the Future Climate project, made a joint call for action at December’s COP17 climate change conference in Durban, South Africa.

The statement calls on governments to move from warm words to solid actions. They need to introduce legislation and financial support to get these technologies out of the workshop and into our homes and businesses and onto our roads. Targeted regulation and taxation will also drive innovation. This will require bold politics, and spending at a time when money is scarce. It is far from unaffordable, however. The UK’s Committee on Climate Change, which advises the British government, continues to support the view of the Stern reportMovie Camera – an assessment of the climate change challenge in the UK – that the move to a low-carbon society will cost no more than 1 per cent of GDP by 2050.

Resistance to wind turbines and the power lines they feed, nuclear power and electric cars, as well as the economic costs, all make public opinion a powerful brake on change. However the alternative seems certain to be worse. It is not only the challenges of a deteriorating climate: with inaction comes a great risk to our economy in the long term. The green technology revolution, just like the industrial revolution before it, will give jobs to those countries which have created the right conditions for it to flourish.

China in front

Which countries these will be is still an open question. India, Germany, Australia and the UK were among the nations signed up to the Future Climate statement, whereas the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters – China and the US – were not. When it comes to investment in clean technology, however, that’s not the whole story.

Although China is continuing to build coal-fired electricity plants at an alarming rate to power its rapid economic growth, the UN Environment Programme confirmed last month that it is now by far the world’s biggest investor in renewable energy. Last year, China’s wind, solar and biomass power industries received $49 billion of new investment, a third of the global total, and it now has the largest installed wind capacity in the world. When predicting who the front runner in this next great technological revolution will be, it is difficult to see past the emerging superpower to the east.

The US is going in the opposite direction. A natural gas rush driven by the development of controversial “fracking” techniques over the past decade has echoes of the oil rush that transformed Texas a century ago. The Financial Times reports that just one company, BHP Billiton, is investing as much as $79 billion in US shale gas fields – over three times the amount invested in all US renewables in a year. This will secure cheap energy in the short term, but it is a finite resource and ultimately a dead end. In due course we could face the interesting prospect of the US turning to China to acquire its wind turbine technology.

Nuclear elephant

Investment in renewable energy is vital for a prosperous, low-carbon society. However, decision-makers cannot ignore the elephant in the room – nuclear power. The enormous cost of implementing 100 per cent renewable power is not realistic for most nations, so nuclear offers our best chance of making a low-carbon society achievable and affordable. Yet the incident at Fukushima earlier this year has reinforced some long-standing concerns.

Unlike road use or smoking, nuclear power stirs anxieties in many of us that are out of proportion with its true risks. This is not to be complacent about the potential danger of a nuclear plant, but it is striking that nuclear power has killed fewer than 5000 people in its entire history. Compare that with coal mining, which in just one year and in one country – China in 2006 – killed 4700.

Germany’s decision to phase out all nuclear power as a result of Fukushima will most likely have unintended consequences. The Association of German Engineers has estimated that it will cost €53 billion every year in Germany to close down its nuclear generation and switch to 100 per cent renewable energy. It will be interesting to see how public opinion, now so clearly against nuclear power, responds as the economic costs become apparent.

Any technological revolution requires two crucial ingredients – engineers to design, develop and manufacture the technology, and politicians to help create the legislative, behavioural and societal environment that allows change to happen. Today’s engineers have fulfilled their side of the bargain. It is time for our politicians to show their mettle.

Colin Brown is director of engineering at the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers

Construction drives China's 'carbonizing dragon'

A ‘carbonizing dragon’: Construction drives China’s growing CO2 emissions.

ScienceDaily (Oct. 4, 2011) — Constructing buildings, power-plants and roads has driven a substantial increase in China’s carbon dioxide emission growth, according to a new study involving the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Fast growing capital investments in infrastructure projects led to the expansion of the construction industry and its energy and CO2 intensive supply chain, such as steel and cement production. As a result of this transformation of China’s economy, more and more CO2 was released per unit of gross domestic product — a reversion of a long-term trend.

Recently China became the world’s largest consumer of energy and emitter of CO2, overtaking the US. Previously the country’s greenhouse gas emissions growth was driven by rising consumption and exports. Today this growth is offset by emission savings from efficiency increases, but these savings are being hindered by the building of infrastructure — which is important as it dictates tomorrow’s emissions, the international team of researchers concludes.

The study, entitled “A ‘Carbonizing Dragon’: China’s fast growing CO2 emissions revisited”, is published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. It emphasizes that putting a low carbon infrastructure in place in China as well as other emerging and developing economies from the beginning is a key global challenge to avoid ‘carbon lock-in’ — where a country could be stuck on a path of high emissions — which would have a significant and persistent impact on future emissions.

“The carbon intensive nature of capital investment in heavy industry, large infrastructure building projects, and energy production, might be hard to avoid as China tries to instigate a virtuous cycle of high rates of investment and economic growth,” explained Giovanni Baiocchi, from Norwich Business School at UEA and the lead UK author of the study.

“The high levels of CO2 emissions from capital investment might only be temporary as, with economic development, investment moves into more high-tech and greener technologies,” added Dr Baiocchi, a senior lecturer in business and climate change. “However, it is crucial that China now invests in the right kind of infrastructure to limit the growth of CO2 emissions that causes global warming. The type of infrastructure put in place today will also largely determine future mitigation costs.”

The study’s lead author Jan Minx, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Technical University of Berlin, said: “Up to 2002 there has been a race between consumption growth and efficiency gains. However, the recent rise in emissions is completely due to the massive structural change of China’s economy. Emissions grow faster and faster, because CO2 intensive sectors linked to the building of infrastructure have become more and more dominant. China has developed into a ‘carbonizing dragon’.”

The researchers conducted a ‘structural decomposition’ analysis of input-output data for 1992 to 2007 — the most recent official data available — which allowed them to assign changes in emission over time to a set of drivers such as consumption growth, efficiency gains or structural change.

They found that emissions almost tripled between 1992 and 2007, growing by about four billion tonnes, with 70% of this growth happening between 2002 and 2007. The average annual CO2 emission growth alone in this period was similar in size to the total CO2 emissions in the UK. While exports showed the fastest CO2 emission growth at one point, capital investments and the construction industry then overtook.

According to the study another important driver of emissions is urbanization — emissions from household consumption are more significant than the sheer growth of population or even the decreasing household size. When people move from the countryside to the city lifestyle changes take place. Urban dwellers, for example, tend to seek gas heating and electricity and also depend more upon a transport infrastructure to get to work, all of which implies a higher per capita carbon footprint.

Related Stories


Poorer Nations Are Leaders Toward Low Carbon Energy

Poorer Nations Lead Global Movement Toward Low Carbon Energy: Scientific American.

Poor countries have spent just as much as rich ones — and in the case of China, more — to develop low-carbon energy, according to a study coming out this week. Its conclusions could turn the conventional wisdom about the differences among nations over mitigation efforts on its head.

The report by former World Bank economist David Wheeler, who now leads the climate change division at the think tank Center for Global Development, finds that China spent 94 cents of every $10,000 of average income on clean energy between 1990 and 2008. The United States, by contrast, spent 44 cents of every $10,000.

Meanwhile, all other industrialized countries combined spent only a penny more per year than their less developed counterparts.

“We all had this idea that [climate change] was a rich country problem and that poor countries shouldn’t have to do anything until they get to a certain stage of development, and that rich countries need to make it worth their while. But what I had seen suggested [was] that poor countries were already doing a lot,” Wheeler said.

The data bore that out. Wheeler examined International Energy Agency data for 174 countries on investments in six low-carbon power sources (hydro, geothermal, nuclear, biomass, wind and solar) to find the incremental costs of clean power compared to a cheaper, carbon-intensive option like a conventional coal-fired power plant. He then computed the average income share in countries to compare how much people in poor countries are paying for carbon mitigation compared to those in rich nations.

“Lo and behold, you get a world in which the shares that poor countries have been devoting to low-carbon technologies over the past 18 years is really comparable to the rich countries,” Wheeler said.

The study comes as countries continue to debate whether to develop a new international climate change treaty. Developing countries, which currently are not obligated to curb emissions, have long argued that they should not be required to help solve a problem caused by industrialized nations.

Many maintain that they also have “atmospheric rights” — that is, the right to pollute — in order to develop. Wealthy countries, meanwhile, argue that fast-growing developing countries like China and India are not doing enough to mitigate emissions. U.S. lawmakers in particular have argued that cutting carbon would put America at a competitive disadvantage to China.

Developing nations attracted to hydropower
But the fact is, countries are working steadily to develop clean energy. And, Wheeler’s study argues, they’ve been doing so for a long time.

Since 1990, developing countries have accounted for 55 percent of the global increase in low-carbon energy generation, he found. China accounted for 15 percent of it alone.

In fact, because of the growth of hydroelectric generation in particular, developing nations like the Kyrgyz Republic, Bhutan, Mozambique, Paraguay and Zimbabwe crowd out the few top-spending developed countries like Iceland, Germany and Finland.

Tajikistan actually tops the list, spending $12.27 for the incremental costs of clean energy for every $10,000. But Wheeler noted that might be an anomaly because the country underwent a civil war. A push in hydro development in 1992-1993 might have been a restart of war-idled energy capacity rather than new development, he noted.

Iceland is the only high-income country in the top 10 list. With a gross domestic product per capita of $29,752, the country spends $11.56 per person annually — mostly on geothermal power. But the Kyrgyz Republic, with a per capita GDP of just $1,634, has spent only slightly less — $11.22 per person.

Wheeler said he purposely included the controversial energy sources hydro and nuclear. While environmental groups fighting for action on climate change don’t like to include those options, Wheeler said he felt it was important to look simply at what sources produce low or zero emissions. At the same time, he argued, despite the safety risks and environmental hazards posed by nuclear and large hydro, respectively, the climate would be in far worse condition had countries not developed those sources.

 

“They’re a huge part of this story,” Wheeler said. “If poor countries hadn’t gone down that road, our carbon emissions would be now far higher than they are, and it would be growing every day much worse than it is.” He also didn’t try to tease out a country’s motive for developing low-carbon energy, since in virtually every case, it had little or nothing to do with climate change.

Flying under the accounting radar
Derek Scissors, a research fellow in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, questioned whether looking at the past decades is a useful comparison, particularly for hydro development, since industrialized countries like the United States built their dams decades ago.

But he also objected to thinking about the climate debate, or the spending necessary to reduce emissions, in terms of developed versus developing countries. Rather, he said, the discussion should be among major emitters of the past, present and future.

“Why would we think that one country should spend as much on clean energy as another country? Why should a country with low emissions do as much?” he said. “It starts from a false premise that the discussion is developing versus developed, which is just another way of saying rich versus poor. But that’s not how to address the problem. That just immediately starts this as a redistribution effort.”

Wheeler said he also thinks the equity argument needs to be put to rest, but that countries like the United States need to realize that long-held arguments that China is not doing enough to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions don’t hold water. He noted that the 94 cents per $10,000 average income that China spent compared to America’s 44 cents looks like an even wider gap when the income is factored in. China’s average GDP per capita for that time period was $2,860, while the United States’ was $37,640.

“What I see is, I have a really rich country that seems to be spending less than 20 percent per unit of income that what China is spending. There’s no possible way I can judge that as reasonable,” Wheeler said.

Developing countries as whole, he said, “have been doing a lot all along. We just haven’t been doing the accounting right.”

* Countries’ spending on low or zero-carbon energy (hydro, geothermal, nuclear, biomass, wind and solar) from 1996 to 2008, calculated as a share of their average income.

Source: Center for Global Development.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500

Huge Arctic fire hints at new climate

BBC News – Huge Arctic fire hints at new climate cue.

Anaktuvuk fire In the summer of 2007, more than 1,000 sq km of Alaskan tundra burned near Anaktuvuk River

Related Stories

An exceptional wildfire in northern Alaska in 2007 put as much carbon into the air as the entire Arctic tundra absorbs in a year, scientists say.

The Anaktuvuk River fire burned across more than 1,000 sq km (400 sq miles), doubling the extent of Alaskan tundra visited by fire since 1950.

With the Arctic warming fast, the team suggests in the journal Nature that fires could become more common.

If that happens, it could create a new climate feedback, they say.

Fires in the tundra are uncommon because the ground is covered in snow and ice for large periods of the year.

Start Quote

Melting can lead to other huge changes… releasing carbon that’s been frozen since the Pleistocene”

Michelle Mack University of Florida

Temperatures are low even in summer, and the ground can also remain wet after the ice has melted.

But 2007 saw unusually warm and dry conditions across much of the Arctic – resulting, among other things, in spectacularly fast melting of Arctic sea ice.

This created conditions more conducive to fire, and when lightning struck the tundra in July, the Anaktuvuk River fire ignited.

“Most tundra fires have been very small – this was an order of magnitude larger than the historical size,” said Michelle Mack from the University of Florida in Gainesville, who led the research team on the Nature paper and is currently conducting further field studies in Alaska.

“In 2007, we had a hot, dry summer, there was no rain for a long period of time.

“So the tundra must have been highly flammable, with just the right conditions for fire to spread until the snow in October finally stopped it.”

Modis image of Alaska Nasa satellites image Arctic ice, water, land – and the Anaktuvuk fire, the black portion at bottom-right

According to the team’s calculations, the statistics of the fire are remarkable.

It is the largest on record, doubling the cumulative area burned since 1950.

It put carbon into the atmosphere about 100 times faster than it usually escapes from the ground in the Arctic summer, and released more than 2 million tonnes.

Although a small contribution to global emissions, this is about the same amount as the entire swathe of tundra around the Arctic absorbs in a single year.

Graph The melting of Arctic sea ice suggests 2007’s record may be broken this year

There is some vegetation on the summer lands, which did burn; but the main fuel is carbon in the ground itself.

The Anaktuvuk fire burned down to a maximum depth of 15cm (6in), and was burning carbon sequestered away over the last 50 years.

What this implies for the future is uncertain.

Climate models generally predict warmer temperatures across the Arctic, which could increase the frequency of fires and so a net loss of carbon into the atmosphere – reinforcing global warming.

On the other hand, plant life could flourish under these conditions, potentially increasing absorption and sequestering of carbon from the atmosphere.

In a news story published well before the Nature paper came out, another of the US research team, Gaius Shaver from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, said the northern region of Alaska could become “vastly different from the frozen, treeless tundra of today.

“And it’s one that may feed back positively to global climate change.”

On reflection

Another impact of the fire that has yet to be fully assessed is that the blackened soil absorbs more solar energy than normally vegetated tundra.

This abets melting of the permafrost layer below.

“Once permafrost melts beyond a certain depth on a slope, then all of the organic layer slides down the slope like a landslide,” Dr Mack told BBC News.

“This whole issue of melting can lead to other huge changes in drainage, in areas of wetlands – releasing carbon that’s been frozen since the Pleistocene [Epoch, which ended more than 10,000 years ago].”

The latest data on Arctic sea ice, meanwhile, reveals that 2011 could well see a melting season that will beat the 2007 record.

Currently, about the same area of sea is covered in ice as at the same point in 2007, which the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) ascribes to “persistent above-average temperatures and an early start to [the] melt”.

Higher density means world forests are capturing more carbon

Higher density means world forests are capturing more carbon.

 

ScienceDaily (June 6, 2011) — Forests in many regions are becoming larger carbon sinks thanks to higher density, U.S. and European researchers say in a new report.

In Europe and North America, increased density significantly raised carbon storage despite little or no expansion of forest area, according to the study, led by Aapo Rautiainen of the University of Helsinki, Finland, and published in the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE.

Even in the South American nations studied, more density helped maintain regional carbon levels in the face of deforestation.

The researchers analyzed information from 68 nations, which together account for 72 percent of the world’s forested land and 68 percent of reported carbon mass. They conclude that managing forests for timber growth and density offers a way to increase stored carbon, even with little or no expansion of forest area.

“In 2004 emissions and removals of carbon dioxide from land use, land-use change and forestry comprised about one fifth of total emissions. Tempering the fifth by slowing or reversing the loss of carbon in forests would be a worthwhile mitigation. The great role of density means that not only conservation of forest area but also managing denser, healthier forests can mitigate carbon emission,” says Rautiainen.

Co-author Paul E. Waggoner, a forestry expert with Connecticut’s Agricultural Experiment Station, says remote sensing by satellites of the world’s forest area brings access to remote places and a uniform method. “However, to speak of carbon, we must look beyond measurements of area and apply forestry methods traditionally used to measure timber volumes.”

“Forests are like cities — they can grow both by spreading and by becoming denser,” says co-author Iddo Wernick of The Rockefeller University’s Program for the Human Environment.

The authors say most regions and almost all temperate nations have stopped losing forest and the study’s findings constitute a new signal of what co-author Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller calls “The Great Reversal” under way in global forests after centuries of loss and decline. “Opportunities to absorb carbon and restore the world’s forests can come through increasing density or area or both.”

To examine how changing forest area and density affect timber volume and carbon, the study team first focused on the United States, where the U.S. Forest Service has conducted a continuing inventory of forest area, timberland area and growing stock since 1953.

They found that while U.S. timberland area grew only 1 percent between 1953 and 2007, the combined national volume of growing stock increased by an impressive 51 percent. National forest density increased substantially.

For an international perspective, the research team examined the 2010 Global Forest Resources Assessment compiled by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which provides consistent figures for the years 1990 to 2010.

The data reveal uncorrelated changes of forest area and density. Countries in Africa and South America, which lost about 10 percent of their forest area over the two decades, lost somewhat less carbon, indicating a small rise in forest density.

In Asia during the second decade of the study period, density rose in 10 of the region’s 21 countries. Indonesia’s major loss of density and sequestered carbon, however, offset any gain in carbon storage in other Asian nations.

Europe, like the U.S., demonstrated substantial density gains, adding carbon well in excess of the estimated carbon absorbed by the larger forested area.

Says study co-author Pekka Kauppi, of the University of Helsinki, Finland, “With so much bad news available on World Environment Day, we are pleased to report that, of 68 nations studied, forest area is expanding in 45 and density is also increasing in 45. Changing area and density combined had a positive impact on the carbon stock in 51 countries.”

Tropical Peat Forests in Trouble

Tropical Peat Forests in Trouble – ScienceNOW.

sn-peatswamp.jpg

Going, going … . Borneo (right) burns in this August 2002 satellite image. Sarawak (left), which is part of Borneo, is losing 8% of its peatland annually. (Key: Dark green: peat swamp forest; Light green: plantations/regrowth; Magenta: urban areas; Light brown: open land.)
Credit: (left) Adapted from J. Mietinnen et al., Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (2011); (right) NASA

Southeast Asia boasts nearly 250,000 square kilometers of peat swamp forests, which host creatures such as orangutans and the world’s smallest fish, and store vast quantities of carbon. But these peat swamps are in trouble, according to a new study of deforestation in the region. If people continue to chop, drain, and burn at current rates, researchers report, by 2030 no native swamps will remain and billions of metric tons of carbon will be lofted into the atmosphere.

Almost all peatland in Southeast Asia is found in peninsular Malaysia and an archipelago of islands that includes Borneo and Sumatra. Rain trickles down mountains and through forests there, ultimately ending up in low-laying lands that can’t quickly drain. Plant matter can’t fully decay and turns into a peaty, acidic stew, trapping carbon and forming a unique environment for wildlife. Although Southeast Asian swamps comprise between 6% and 7% of global peatland, they store roughly 69 billion metric tons of carbon—about nine times the global emissions from fossil fuel combustion in 2006.

Globalization eventually reached Southeast Asia in the 1980s, driving farmers to fell peat forest trees for cash and replace the swamps with palm oil plantations. Earth-monitoring satellites have visually documented such destruction for decades, but researchers had never precisely quantified the loss for the region over a long period of time. Sorting out which pixels in the images belonged to swamps, palm oil plantations, urban areas, and the like is also difficult work that’s impossible without well-tuned algorithms. So for 5 years, lead author and ecologist Jukka Miettinen and his colleagues at the Deltares Research Institute in the Netherlands studied maps and developed methods to codify the images. They also incorporated infrared images to gauge the effect of human-set fires in the region.

The results, published online 15 April in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, show that peatland forest dropped from 77% of original coverage to 36% between 1990 and 2010. At current rates, no forest will remain in 2 decades. “Even though I have been working in this region for nearly ten years and was well aware of the deforestation taking place in Southeast Asian peatlands, I must say that I was still surprised to see how little peat swamp forest is left,” Miettinen writes in an e-mail.

As unique habitat for animals is gobbled up locally—6000 plants and dozens of birds, fish, and mammals live only there—the rest of the planet is bound to feel the effects. Once people drain peat swamps for plantations or urban development, plant material begins to decompose, release carbon dioxide, and fuel planet-wide climate change.

“Nearly all peatlands in Sumatra and Borneo are now sources of carbon emission,” says hydrologist Aljosja Hooijer of the National University of Singapore, who works with Miettinen but wasn’t involved in the study. Ecologist Sue Page of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom says that Southeast Asia emits as much as 363 million metric tons of carbon each year through peatland destruction. “That’s the same amount of carbon stored in the entirety of England’s peatland,” Page said. “These new maps really show the extremely rapid rate of deforestation. We knew it was bad, but the scale of destruction here is shocking and frightening.”

With an average of 2700 square kilometers of Southeast Asian peat swamp vanishing every year, the situation is dire. One peatland researcher who works in the region, but wished to remain anonymous (for fear of losing his job), said the Indonesian government at all levels is not doing anything constructive to curb the problem. “There is a lot of talk, to please international donors, but no action. It even seems that in some areas that forest clearing has accelerated, to make sure it’s done before conservation laws are enforced,” the source said. “It is all about political will.”

*This article has been corrected. The amount of carbon stored in Southeast Asian peat swamps was incorrectly stated to be roughly 64 billion metric tons instead of 69 billion metric tons. Aljosja Hooijer’s affiliation was also incorrect; he is a hydrologist at the Deltares research institute in the Netherlands.