It's a vicious cycle: Global warming is increasing the chances of wildfires, and now we know the reverse is also true. Scientists have confirmed that wildfires release large amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That's no surprise, but the amounts are jaw-dropping: Big fires like the recent ones in California can belch out as much carbon dioxide in a few weeks as all of the state's motor vehicle traffic does in a year.
Christine Wiedinmyer of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Jason Neff of the
University of Colorado used satellite observations of fires and a new
computer model to estimate carbon dioxide emissions based on the amount of vegetation burned. The California fires broke out after their paper, published online yesterday in
the journal Carbon Balance and Management, was already written. However, a preliminary calculation by Wiedinmyer suggests that the fires emitted
7.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in just the one-week period
of October 19-26. That's about 25 percent of the average
monthly emissions from all fossil fuel burning throughout California.—Dawn Stover