Friday, 17 June 2011

Smouldering mega fire in North Carolina Wildlife Refuge

A peat fire has been burning in North Carolina since May 4 inside the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. It is only 75% contain so far, and the higher summer temperatures are arriving fast. It could burn for several more months.

It is believed to had started with a lightning strike [ref]. A recent local article reports "crews pump millions of gallons of water on stubborn ground fire that is part of the larger Pains Bay fire"

This brings reminisces of the 2008 Evans Road fire in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (NC, not far from Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge). The initial flaming fronts were controlled within days, but the smouldering fire burned for 6 more months and consumed the organic soil down to 1 m deep (see hanging tree in the 2008 photo). 16000 ha were destroyed (2 times the year average for North Carolina). More than 400 firefighters stopped this smouldering mega fire by flooding and excavating the peat. Estimated costs in suppression alone are near $20 million. It was also believed to had started with a lightning strike.

Note that as opposed to flaming fires of forest land that can regrow in 50 to 100 years, peat is a pre-fossil fuel (or ancient carbon as Andy Revkin labelled in his twit), it takes >10,000 year to form. Thus peat fires are a net source of carbon emissions and provide a positive feedback to climate change. This accidental fossil-fuel burning taking place now releases carbon that will not be recaptured by new peat until the year 12011. By then, the Earth climate system had plenty of time to response and lead to a possible global change. I discussed this a recent talk I gave at the last European Geoscience Union, see previous blog entry here and insert below. The title was "Climate Feedbacks on Smouldering Earth".

Climate Feedbacks on Smouldering Earth (talk at EGU Vienna 2011)

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