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      The amount of carbon released from peat and forest fires in Indonesia during 1997

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      Nature
      Springer Science and Business Media LLC

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          Abstract

          Tropical peatlands are one of the largest near-surface reserves of terrestrial organic carbon, and hence their stability has important implications for climate change. In their natural state, lowland tropical peatlands support a luxuriant growth of peat swamp forest overlying peat deposits up to 20 metres thick. Persistent environmental change-in particular, drainage and forest clearing-threatens their stability, and makes them susceptible to fire. This was demonstrated by the occurrence of widespread fires throughout the forested peatlands of Indonesia during the 1997 El Niño event. Here, using satellite images of a 2.5 million hectare study area in Central Kalimantan, Borneo, from before and after the 1997 fires, we calculate that 32% (0.79 Mha) of the area had burned, of which peatland accounted for 91.5% (0.73 Mha). Using ground measurements of the burn depth of peat, we estimate that 0.19-0.23 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon were released to the atmosphere through peat combustion, with a further 0.05 Gt released from burning of the overlying vegetation. Extrapolating these estimates to Indonesia as a whole, we estimate that between 0.81 and 2.57 Gt of carbon were released to the atmosphere in 1997 as a result of burning peat and vegetation in Indonesia. This is equivalent to 13-40% of the mean annual global carbon emissions from fossil fuels, and contributed greatly to the largest annual increase in atmospheric CO(2) concentration detected since records began in 1957 (ref. 1).

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          Increased damage from fires in logged forests during droughts caused by El Niño.

          In 1997-98, fires associated with an exceptional drought caused by the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) devastated large areas of tropical rain forests worldwide. Evidence suggests that in tropical rainforest environments selective logging may lead to an increased susceptibility of forests to fire. We investigated whether this was true in the Indonesian fires, the largest fire disaster ever observed. We performed a multiscale analysis using coarse- and high-resolution optical and radar satellite imagery assisted by ground and aerial surveys to assess the extent of the fire-damaged area and the effect on vegetation in East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. A total of 5.2 +/- 0.3 million hectares including 2.6 million hectares of forest was burned with varying degrees of damage. Forest fires primarily affected recently logged forests; primary forests or those logged long ago were less affected. These results support the hypothesis of positive feedback between logging and fire occurrence. The fires severely damaged the remaining forests and significantly increased the risk of recurrent fire disasters by leaving huge amounts of dead flammable wood.
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            Indonesian peat swamp forests and their role as a carbon sink

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              Use of multitemporal ERS-2 SAR images for identification of burned scars in south-east Asian tropical rainforest

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                November 2002
                November 2002
                : 420
                : 6911
                : 61-65
                Article
                10.1038/nature01131
                12422213
                2cf3f43c-1b87-4d22-96f2-550b765051f0
                © 2002

                http://www.springer.com/tdm


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