JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Are forest fires evil polluters?

Note the mass emissions in the Amazon and Africa in Sept 2007

The Carbon tracker shows the major CO2 polluters as they splurt out CO2. See the massive plumes of CO2 around the planet.

Look at China… watch clusters of coal fired power stations bursting into life only to shut down a month later. (Or maybe not.)

Is that mass rallies of four wheel drives each August in the Congo? No, it must be air-conditioners in Kinshasa…

;-)

Tom Quirk tells me that the intermittent polluters around the equatorial region are likely to be massive fires. (And there are even monster fires as far north as Siberia).

I’m intrigued but I want some data. The NASA Earth Observatory obviously have some data — see the picture here of the same month as the picture at the top (sept 2007). It is not enough though. The dots represent the number of fires, but not the intensity, and not the fuel load…

 

Note the active fires in the Amazon and Africa in Sept 2007

Watch the global wildfires rage and die out in this animation below:

Australian fires don’t appear to rate in the CO2 pollution stakes — perhaps the fuel loads and length of time they burn are just not on the same scale as some of the tropical fires in Africa, the Amazon and SE Asia?

If anyone can find the data on bush fires, I’m curious…

 

h/t Tom Quirk

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62 comments to Are forest fires evil polluters?

  • #
    Brian G Valentine

    I would be surprised if the bulk of the CO2 at the equatorial region wasn’t the result of constant insolation on the oceans and not from “fires.”

    Anyway the President of the United States is going to “do something” about all these “wildfires” by dumping billions of dollars into solar panels, algae, and concerted efforts to eradicate “denialism.”

    We’ll find out in a few years just how successful these efforts were, I suppose

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    • #

      The President of the United States does nothing except make speeches. Actually, we pretty much celebrate when he comes out championing something because we know in less than a month, something new will come along and the old will be forgotten. :)

      Once must wonder about anyone narcissistic enough to declare themselves in control of the weather. Harkens back to Greek Gods, I suppose.

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  • #
    Andrew McRae

    Are forest fires evil polluters?

    No. Because 1) the CO2 they release is from CO2 they got from their many previous years of growth, and 2) CO2 is not a pollutant.

    Glad we could help.
    Do you have any trickier questions? :)

    Also there’s something which wasn’t obvious to me initially which you could clarify to readers. The global CO2 animation shown above is a simulation, not an amalgamation of observations. The movie description on NOAA’s web site also contains this interesting tidbit:

    This corresponds to about 1.2km above the ground to about 5.5km above ground,

    The Mauna Loa Observatory is at an altitude in the middle of that range, so theoretically, to test the model of the CO2 sources and sinks, someone at NOAA should be checking if the simulated average around hawaii matched what MLO actually measured.
    Bah! What am I saying? This is climate science! Publish the simulation then pack for a junket in Mexico.

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    • #

      Why, so glad you asked. There is a world wide network of stations which match the ML Observatory record. ML is just the longest running station. There are interesting interseasonal and latitudinal trends, for example the mixing ratio in the southern hemisphere lags that in the northern hemisphere

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      • #
        Brian G Valentine

        the mixing ratio in the southern hemisphere lags that in the northern hemisphere,

        which, I should think, was the result of natural convection arising from the preponderance of land mass in the Northern Hemisphere

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  • #

    “Fire pixels / 1000 km2 / day” is an interpretation, but looks believable for Australia if you manage to break the animation down. Doesn’t look like it’s picking up phosphor bronze street lights anyway :-)
    Trying to do the same with the “free troposphere co2″ gave me a headache, but I go with insolation (out-gassing of the oceans), plus maybe diurnal terrestrial out-gassing from forests at night?
    FWIW my gear has indicated a rise in co2 of 25 – 50ppm from fairly modest upwind bushfires 5 – 12 km away.

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    • #

      Andrew: “The global CO2 animation shown above is a simulation … ”
      Oops. No wonder it was hard to re-engineer. Could be anything between a reasonable representation and someone’s diseased imagination.

      40

  • #
    Bob H

    Just for interest I downloaded some data from the web & did some calculations of my own. When we compare the output of CO2 with the total forested areas per country, Australia is punching way above our weight. There are 115 countries with fewer hectares of forest per tonne of CO2 output. So we are cleaning up for more than half the world’s so called pollution. When is the rest of the world going to start pulling their weight?

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  • #
    Bulldust

    The answer to this is obvious … if the fires burn carbon offset plantations it is pollution, otherwise they are natural and part of Gaia’s glorious natural cycle and something to be worshipped. It’s all a question of which carbon atoms go up in smoke…

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    • #

      Yes. The alarmists “know” but we deniers don’t know that each CO2 molecule has a sign on it saying “Man Made” or “Natural”. The man made version is twisted and runs crooked. The natural version runs true.

      The “Natural” CO2 is totally innocent of any climate effect. In fact, it transfers all of its natural effects to the “Man Made” CO2. It is the evil “Man Made” CO2 that has a multiplier that is sufficient to make the Climate Simulations come out right.

      Sadly for us, both the “Natural” and “Man Made” CO2 molecules are smart enough to fool the instruments we deniers use so we can’t see the difference. However, the Alarmists are smart enough to see it without taking any measurements at all.

      This is why we can’t trust measurements, science, and the scientific method. We must trust the 97% of “climate scientists” who say Global Warming is still happening. We must ignore our instruments that say that the measured global temperature is dropping. Keep in mind, Chicken Little was right. The sky IS falling and we are doomed.

      Meanwhile back in reality, there is a whole lot of cold coming our way/ It is not just winter. The variable star we call The Sun is entering a quiet time and, as is quite natural, our earth is getting colder. The Alarmists will continue with their paranoid fantasy for a while longer until they get major frost bite where it really hurts.

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  • #
    Ace

    What about cooking fires?

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    • #
      KinkyKeith

      Shhhhh.

      You mean, like in Africa, China, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Loas and South America?

      All with exploding poulations

      KK

      40

    • #
      Colin Henderson

      Hey Ace, haven’t you heard – carbon from burning wood is NOT a pollutant, it is only the carbon released from burning fossil fuels that is. This is a CAGW FACT!

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      • #
        Michael Reserve

        It’s not just the North American Dreadwoods that have to worry. I’m seeing clear felling in Scotland now on a scale never before seen in my lifetime.
        The sensible ecological lessons of the past are being forgotten in the name of keeping the coal in the ground.
        It’s ‘sustainable ‘ to burn wood because its renewable.
        Well most of the forests that once covered Britain have never returned.
        Sustainable my @£53 ! Just another excuse to profit from the ignorance of new age planet savers.

        What does Peat think ? Is plundering swathes of heathland going to be sustainable too ?
        Peat is only some half way between wood & coal.

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      • #
        Joe V.

        Colin. Not me ol’. mate ‘ Hendo’ from Edinburgh, class of ’84 & Breadalbane to 1980 ?

        50

      • #
        Ace

        I know Colin, its like only “deniers” have a “carbon footprint”, whereas Michael’s children, grand-children, great-grand-children planned and expanding empire of spawn have none it would seem.

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  • #
    blackadderthe4th

    ‘Are forest fires evil polluters?’ worry not the effects of wildfire are being investigated, by Dr Box a well know Greenland scientist. He is looking into the darkening of the ice sheet due to increased wildfires resulting in increased melt. It is going to be reported in ‘Rolling Stone’.

    AGU investigates wild fires!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76bWDFJMnp
    [REPLY: This is exactly the kind of inane comment I'm talking about. So if AGU investigated wildfires, what did they find, where is the paper? Is it worse than diesel particulate blackening from shipping which also affects arctic ice? If you have a burning urge to educate us, why don't you bother to put information? Your entire argument here amounts to saying "some people are investigating one aspect of fires and it's going to be reported in the media". - Jo]

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  • #
    AndyG55

    And all that heat from the fires must be trapped by all that CO2.

    Those countries must be, like 100°C+, all the time.

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    • #
      AndyG55

      The point I make here… if anyone didn’t get it..

      .. is that the atmosphere easily gets rid of all the heat from bushfires..

      so why wouldn’t it get rid of the tiny fraction of a degree purportedly caused by a minor but highly important trace gas.

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  • #
    KinkyKeith

    An Inconvenient Truth about modern green Ecology is that grass, trees and scrub grow constantly adding to the potential fuel for the Next fire.

    Bush fires are seen as an Eco Failure of our modern lives and a sign of decadence.

    The reality of course, is that this little piece of the Eco Religion is based only on Belief not on fact and substance.

    In any area of bush or scrub, as we see every year in California or closer to home in Tasmania last year or Victoria previously, there are fires where lives, homes and other property are lost unnecessarily.

    Politicians will say that it was “deliberately lit” by some criminal, and that may or may not be the case.

    The inescapable fact is that nature has the capacity to start fires and does so on a regular basis with often disastrous results for people and wildlife.

    The one and Only solution is to carry out hazard reduction burns over small areas on a regular basis so that when the inevitable fire arrives, it is less dangerous.

    The only truth is that the longer it has been since the last burn, the bigger, and more dangerous, the fire.

    KK

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    • #
      Geoff Sherrington

      You can get area buned for control for a State likke Victoria and calculate its portion of total area. Back of envelope, I calculated that present rate of control fires would take nearly 200 years to cover the whole State. Control burns would need an enormous expansion to be useful. This is a hard exersise for management.

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      • #
        KinkyKeith

        Gi Geoff

        Would rather not burn but don’t see any alternative.

        Chemical control and hand clearing wouldn’t work as far as I can see and just leaving undergrowth to accumulate is like playing Russian Roulette.

        Small villages surrounded by bush have been the biggest issue in recent fatal fires and this shows the need for escape roads to have a good clear zone either side free also from potential falling trees.

        KK

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  • #
    KinkyKeith

    Have you heard that Mouth to Mouth resuscitation might be banned because the air we breathe out has CO2 levels of 40,000 ppm?

    Holger Neilson has refused to comment.

    Meanwhile, President Obama has vowed to reduce expired CO2 levels to 399 ppm by 2030.

    When medical experts warned that this was not possible he replied that he did not wish to respond to comments of members of the “Flat Earth Society” and would pass the problem over to the EPA for immediate action.

    KK

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    • #
      Ace

      We can joke about Obama, but he has actually created a childrens informant organisation, a neighbourhood informant organisation and a system whereby “concerned citizens” are encouraged to anonymously report to their police department neioghbours or colleagues who they believe to harbour ill will toward the US government. Obama may be a joke, but not one I find a laughing matter.

      Oh and look at Egypt now.

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  • #

    “The only truth is that the longer it has been since the last burn, the bigger, and more dangerous, the fire.”

    Yep! Where I live, the north side of the south mountains have a thick layer of chaparral over the head of a horse and rider (it was five years ago when I last rode there). Much of it is covered by oaks that are thick, over 30 feet tall, and filled with dead limbs in the trees and around the base of the trees. The last time the mountain side burned was over 60 years ago. Our winter rain was way below normal, August has been very hot, and everything is dry as kiln dried timber. Tick…tick…tick….

    The next burn is going to be humongous, hot, and very smokey. Unfortunately, the hills are also covered with poison oak. That will make the smoke toxic to anyone allergic to poison oak.

    80

    • #
      KinkyKeith

      Hi Lionell

      That stuff sounds huge and is different to what we have in my favorite spot.

      In my hometown of Newcastle we have a great stretch of bushland running from Merewether beach through to Redhead beach.

      A lot of the area was previously denuded of trees during mining operations that by and large ended 100 years ago.

      Regrowth since has been left unchecked by NPWS and the area on the flats is infested with chest high, tick riddled, impenetrable scrub that makes the area downright ugly and a fire hazard.

      In the nearby valleys the oldest trees are generally not much over 60 years but the undergrowth around them is getting very noticeable and I just hope that the next fire doesn’t really get out of control and wipe out all wildlife.

      I don’t like burning but what sensible alternative is there? Hand or machine clearing would take forever.

      A serious re-think on land management is urgently needed.

      40

      • #
        AndyG55

        And up near Merewether Heights Primary school, they seem to have a “naturally occurring” fire about once every 3 or 4 years.. and always on a calm day.

        Amazing ;-)

        40

  • #
    Yonniestone

    Call me crazy but that carbon tracker video seems to have a pattern going on, like a cycle or similar, surely someone’s thought of that. :)
    Here’s a bushfire record for Victoria http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/fire-and-other-emergencies/major-bushfires-in-victoria up to 2009

    30

  • #
    Ace

    I’ve actually been INSIDE the NOAA headquarters when I was a kid.

    Pointless boast that, but true.

    Woody Allen was there too, but not on the same day.

    30

  • #
    Davet916

    Yonniestone touched on something. If you pick different spots on the active fire clip and watch for a bit, you’ll soon notice that it is a video loop. It repeats itself over and over while the date is the only thing that changes. It is total BS meant fool the less initiated.

    The pattern in the carbon tracker doesn’t repeat as often, so they get away with it more easily.

    Dave T
    Californicate, USSA

    50

    • #
      Joe V.

      The power of visuals. Can kids brought up on movies fall for anything ?

      90

      • #
        amcoz

        If the ‘visual-artistry’ above are anyway close to reality, they show clearly that Oz has got SFA to do with warming the globe, or changing the climate, due to See-Oh-Too, or anything else for that matter; period.

        50

  • #
    Jim

    There is a pattern indeed. It appears that in the northern hemisphere winter, CO2 is highest while plants are in hibernation and hydrocarbons are burned for heat, and lowest sub-equator as due to uptake of CO2 by vegetation. In NH summer, the cycle is reversed with low CO2 in the NH due to vegetation uptake.
    I think that this activity will dwarf fire induced CO2 emissions. The low activity in Australia is like due to naturally lower vegetation cover and also low population. Just an outside observation.

    20

  • #
    Chris Schoneveld

    I just don”t believe that each pixel represents 1000km2/day. No way that that many fires are occurring in Equatorial Africa at such a large scale. As it it is not a measure of intensity maybe it is measuring the people cooking on their wood fired stoves.

    10

  • #
    Steve Crook

    There was quite a balanced view of this on the BBC (world service I think) in the last week. Sadly, I can’t find the program.

    They discussed satellite photos used to track the fires and view of the interviewee was that compared to the rest of the world Africa dominated the ‘big burn’ tables and that those in Australia or the US were small stuff…

    He further said that while some of the burn *might* be caused by dryer conditions resulting from climate change, the vast bulk was either natural (and had been happening for millenia) or the result of people, either accidentally or on purpose.

    His main concern was with southern Africa which has seen a large increase in the number of fires in recent years.

    I *think* he also said that the fires started by people could account for 10-25% of all anthropogenic CO2.

    10

  • #
    Ace

    So long suckers…..

    10

  • #

    One major source of CO2 that is (conveniently) overlooked is that of underground coal seam fires, of which there are thousands burning around the world, and some have been burning for thousands of years.
    Wikipedia has a good summary of the issue.
    And here’s an oldie but a goodie: a story from a 1999 edition of Discover Magazine stating that one fire alone in China produces as much CO2 every year as do all the cars in the United States.

    But, of course, you’ll never see hordes of attention-seeking juveniles, or self-loathing leftists who just want to destroy everything out of hatred of our society or leftists environmentalists who have such an obsessive hatred of fossil fuel it can only be described as a mental illness out in the street demonstrating against underground coal seam fires.

    30

    • #
      KinkyKeith

      Barry

      That last paragraph describes so much of modern society and the attitudes of the last forty years it is scarey!

      Rather than take the trouble to explore and understand things, people just want a cause that they can attach themselves to with a predetermined point of blame: Somebody else.

      Of course Global Warming comes with the ideal target, Greedy Old People and the Fossil Fuel Dragon belching fire and crap everywhere.

      KK

      10

    • #

      Sorry Barry, that is nonsense. Sure there is the occasional fire of near surface coal often started by bushfires. There is one at Burning Mountain on the way to Scone NSW but the amount of CO2 given off is minute. It has lasted for decades due small surface cracks. However, around the world most near surface coal has been mined. Do realise that to burn coal needs oxygen. To be workable underground mines need ventilation. To test the presence of oxygen dig yourself a 50m hole and sit in it for a while. Take a safety lamp and have someone pull you if you want to live. The CO2 you breathe out will gradually displace any air and the flame in the safety lamp will get smaller and go out. How long do you think you will last if the hole is 2m diameter?

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    • #
      Manfred W. Wuttke

      A point for information and discussion of coal seam fires is:

      http://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=4998863&trk=anet_ug_hm&goback=%2Enmp_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1

      Cheers
      Manfred

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  • #
    Olaf Koenders

    Ancient Martians gazed at the Earth through their telescopes a billion years ago and thought this planet was uninhabitable and far too dangerous to visit, considering the thick Oxygen-rich atmosphere, the extremely low levels of 15,000ppm CO2 unable to sustain Martian life and oceans full of a concentrated and highly explosive mixture of Hydrogen and Oxygen.

    One match and it’s all over.

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  • #
    Eddie Sharpe

    Same can be said for why the main protagonists have to deny there is any debate.

    One match and it’s all over.

    10

  • #
    Andrew G

    Jo,
    The video shows carbon uptake / carbon release in the Northern Hemisphere being vastly more intense than the Southern. The concern I have with that is a recent article (on here? Not sure, maybe, cannot remember sorry) that suggested the oceans had the greatest uptake of CO2, far greater than forests. Considering the Southern Hemisphere has more ocean than the Northern does land, I would suggest that the model used in creating the video is less a model and more a fevered imagination.

    20