Agricultural burning, forest fires impact Arctic melting

May 27th, 2009 - 4:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 27 (IANS) Large-scale agricultural burning in Russia, Kazakhstan, China, US, Canada and Ukraine is having a much greater impact on the melting of Arctic ice than previously suspected, according to latest research.
A singular threat is springtime burning to remove crop residues for new planting or clear brush for grazing - because the black carbon or soot produced by the fires can lead to accelerated melting of snow and ice.

Scientists from across the world are set to converge at the University of New Hampshire, New England, in the first week of June to discuss key findings from the most ambitious effort ever undertaken to measure “short-lived” airborne pollutants in the Arctic.

They will also determine how they contribute in the near term to the dramatic changes underway in the vast, climate-sensitive region.

The two-year international field campaign known as POLARCAT was conducted most intensively during two three-week periods last spring and summer and focused on the transport of pollutants into the Arctic from lower latitudes.

Soot, which is produced through incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuels, may account for as much as 30 percent of Arctic warming to date, according to recent estimates.

Soot can warm the surrounding air and, when deposited on ice and snow, absorb solar energy and add to the melting process.

Besides soot, other short-lived pollutants include ozone and methane. Although global warming is largely the result of excess accumulation of carbon dioxide, the Arctic is highly sensitive to short-lived pollutants.

Forest fires, agricultural burning, primitive stoves and diesel fuel are the primary sources of black carbon, while oil and gas activities and landfills are major sources of methane.

The report notes that during April, at the beginning of the field campaign in Northern Alaska, aircraft-based researchers were surprised to find 50 smoke plumes originating from fires in Eurasia more than 3,000 miles away.

The international team of scientists used satellites, instrumented aircraft, ocean-going ships and ground stations to track and analyse pollution transported into the region, said a New Hampshire release.

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