January 3, 2013

Small fires not small fry

By changing the methods and resolution of imagery used to detect and measure fires annually across the planet, a group of scientists recently discovered that the total burned area increased by 35%.  Simply by accounting for smaller, usually undetected, fires the land area burned increased from some 345 million hectares annually up to 464 million hectares.

Greater burned area generates more carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions and, of course, often devastates biodiversity in tropical rainforest areas.  The link between land-use change by slash and burn and climate change is something being slowly recognized and promulgated at country levels, for instance in recent years government sponsored bill-boards have appeared alongside rainforest roads trying to persuade subsistence farmers to help the environment by not using this very traditional method.

The new methods, involving the use of satellite thermal images, showed particular discrepancies in the tropical forest regions.   In Central America, for instance, the increase in burned area by accounting for smaller fires was a whopping 143%.  An even worse percentage rise was found in Equatorial Asia.


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