Efforts made to prevent and fight forest fires

Efforts made to prevent and fight forest fires

Thursday, 2018-07-05 11:13:12

NDO – Most of the forest areas in the Northern and Central regions are at high risk of fire, often at level 5 (extremely dangerous). Forest fires have broken out in some localities, posing an urgent need for the active prevention of forest fires.

In the central province of Nghe An, forest fires broke out in Dien Chau, Yen Thanh, Nam Dan and Quynh Luu districts in the early days of July. According to the provincial Department of Forest Protection, in the coming days, the Foehn wind, caused by the impact of the southeastern edge of the western hot low-pressure area, will continue causing hot weather across the region with temperatures always over 40 degrees Celsius.

Most recently, at about 14.30 on July 3, in Quynh My commune, Quynh Luu district, Nghe An province, a fire broke out in the forest and quickly destroyed 1 hectare of four-year-old acacia forest. Functional forces and around 300 local people were mobilised to control the fire.

In Ha Tinh province, hot and severe weather makes the danger of forest fire a permanent threat. Within 10 days from June 21 to July 1, six forest fires occurred over a total area of over 37 hectares in the province. About 10 hectares of forest was damaged.

The northern mountainous province of Son La is also focusing on many measures and plans to actively prevent and fight forest fires. According to Director of the Forest Protection Department Luong Ngoc Hoan, the province is managing more than 600 hectares of forestry, of which the majority are specialised, mixed, and regenerating forests with a high risk of fire (levels 4 and 5). From the beginning of the year, the province has organised 2,789 grassroots forest ranger teams while more than 88,000 households in the province have signed a commitment to forest protection.

The Vietnam Forestry Administration has sent an urgent message on forest fire prevention and fighting to provinces and cities such as Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Ha Quang Binh, Thua Thien – Hue, Da Nang, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, and Khanh Hoa.

Accordingly, authorities at grassroots levels must promote communication works on fire prevention and fighting among their residents while forces should be ready around the clock in case forest fires occur.

Roles must be assigned among members of all-level steering boards of the national target programme on sustainable forestry development to enhance inspections. Meanwhile, military and police forces were ordered to stand ready to offer assistance in case of fires.

Forest ranger teams should work with people’s committees to direct and examine efforts to prevent forest fires while forest owners are responsible for upgrading their firefighting facilities.

Source Link: http://en.nhandan.org.vn/society/item/6351302-efforts-made-to-prevent-and-fight-forest-fires.html

Swamps and Wildfires: A Dangerous Combination

Swamps and Wildfires: A Dangerous Combination

 

“Know your enemy” is a perfect motto for wildland firefighters. The brave souls who’ve chosen this line of work understand its many dangers. Forest fires are not their only source of trouble: One of the biggest challenges these men and women can face is an out-of-control peatland swamp fire. Don’t let the standing water fool you: Bogs and swamps are fertile terrains for a tenacious, sneaky kind of inferno that smolders underground and might spend years lurking beneath the surface.

For Peat’s Sake

Recognized as one of the American South’s greatest natural wonders, the vast Okefenokee Swamp rests on the Georgia-Florida border. In 2007, lightning and a felled power line sparked a plague of converging wildfires in and around this storied wetland. More than 926 square miles (2,398 square kilometers) worth of vegetation were torched in the Okefenokee’s two home states. Huge columns of town-smothering smoke could be seen from Atlanta to Orlando. By the time the crisis ended, it had cost the citizenry an estimated $130 million in damages and firefighting expenses.

The Okefenokee is accustomed to this sort of thing. Prior to ’07, the swamp had endured massive fires in 1844, 1860, 1910, 1932, 1954 and 1955. History repeated itself once again in 2011 when another round of brushfires terrorized the swamp for more than eleven months straight.

There’s a reason why this boggy area — a lush place that’s teeming with fish, alligators and aquatic plants — gets so many fires. And that reason is peat.

Peat is a carbon-rich, organic turf that covers 3 percent of the world’s land surface. About 50 to 70 percent of all wetlands, including the Okefenokee Swamp, is situated above large deposits of this material. Its main ingredient is dead plant matter that hasn’t fully decomposed. Remains of other deceased organisms are also contained within blocks of peat, along with minerals absorbed in the local sediment.

To get peat, you generally need an area where there’s little water beneath the ground and microorganisms in the soil are creating an anaerobic — or low-oxygen — environment. As more and more organisms die off, peat steadily accumulates over hundreds or thousands of years. Forests and wetlands can form over these peat sheets, the thickest of which are more than 50 feet (15.2 meters) deep. It’s thought that the oldest peats on the planet started forming 12,000 years ago — right after the last ice age.

Smoldering Real Estate

Pressure from above slowly drives peat deeper into the Earth, where it eventually becomes coal. And like that prized mining commodity, peat harbors a lot of trapped carbon from dead life forms. In fact, peat plays host to a third of all the carbon that’s stored inside the world’s soils. All this carbon renders the substance highly flammable. Even damp peat makes for good kindling when water makes up less than 55 percent of its total weight.

A spark at the surface might be all that’s required to ignite the peat under a swamp or forest. Whereas living trees burst into licks of orange flame, peat catches fire in a less dramatic way: It smolders like a lit cigarette. Once they get started, peat fires move at a gradual pace, creeping along through the substrate. The slow burns have been known to last for years before getting extinguished. They can also reach the surface, setting some trees or bushes ablaze. It’s not unheard-of for a peat fire to do exactly that and then retreat back underground, only to reappear later on. In 2014, seven Canadian peat fires caused surface-level damage and then went under before they resurfaced the following year.

Fires liberate the trapped carbon, sending it into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. This has the unfortunate effect of triggering longer dry seasons in places where peat bogs naturally occur, making them more likely to ignite. It’s a nasty feedback loop — and a big contributor to our climate change problems.

What’s more, smoke from these fires aggravates respiratory problems for those who inhale it. A 2015 outbreak of the bog burnings in southeast Asia led to dense, low-lying clouds of haze. We don’t know how many deaths this caused, but one team of researchers came up with a tentative figure of 100,300 fatalities distributed between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Fighting back isn’t easy. Sometimes, you can smother a peatland fire by pumping water into the turf, but this technique requires a huge amount of time, effort, and planning. Waiting for them to die of natural causes is an exercise in frustration. As we’ve established, it can take months or years for one of these fires to burn through its fuel supply. Intense rainstorms have been known to put them out, but if the peat gets struck by lightning, that can make it smolder again.

Alas, a wildland firefighter’s job is never done.

Source Link: https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/swamps-and-wildfires-dangerous-combination.htm

Future without intact forests?

Future without intact forests?

Despite a decades-long effort to halt deforestation, nearly 10 percent of undisturbed forests have been fragmented, degraded or simply chopped down since 2000, according to the analysis of satellite imagery.

Average daily loss over the first 17 years of this century was more than 200 square kilometers.

“Degradation of intact forest represents a global tragedy, as we are systematically destroying a crucial foundation of climate stability,” said Frances Seymour, a senior distinguished fellow at the World Resources Institute (WRI), and a contributor to the research, presented this week at a conference in Oxford.

“Forests are the only safe, natural, proven and affordable infrastructure we have for capturing and storing carbon.”

The findings come as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and five major conservation organizations launched a five-year plan, Nature4Climate, to better leverage land use in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming.

“Thirty-seven percent of what is needed to stay below two degrees Celsius” – the cornerstone goal of the 196-nation Paris Agreement – “can be provided by land”, said Andrew Steer, WRI president, and CEO. “But only three percent of the public funding for mitigation goes to land and forest issues – that needs to change.”

Beyond climate, the last forest frontiers play a critical role in maintaining biodiversity, weather stability, clean air, and water quality. Some 500 million people worldwide depend directly on forests for their livelihoods.

A future without intact forests?

So-called intact forest landscapes – which can include wetlands and natural grass pastures – are defined as areas of at least 500 square kilometers with no visible evidence in satellite images of large-scale human use.

That means no roads, industrial agriculture, mines, railways, canals or transmission lines.

As of January 2017, there were about 11.6 million square kilometers of forests worldwide that still fit these criteria. From 2014 to 2016, that area declined by more than 87,000 square kilometers each year.

“Many countries may lose all their forest wildlands in the next 15 to 20 years,” Peter Potapov, an associate professor at the University of Maryland and lead scientist for the research, said.

On current trends, intact forests will disappear by 2030 in Paraguay, Laos, and Equatorial Guinea, and by 2040 in Cambodia, the Central African Republic, Nicaragua, Myanmar, and Angola.

“There could come a point in the future where no areas in the world qualify as ‘intact’ anymore,” said Tom Evans, director for forest conservation and climate mitigation at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“It is certainly worrying.”

In tropical countries, the main causes of virgin forest loss are conversion to agriculture and logging. In Canada and the United States, fire is the main culprit, while in Russia and Australia, the destruction has been driven by fires, mining, and energy extraction.
Compared to annual declines during the period 2000-2013, Russia lost, on average, 90 percent more each year from 2014 to 2016. For Indonesia, the increase was 62 percent, and for Brazil, it was 16 percent.

Protected areas

The new results are based on a worldwide analysis of satellite imagery, built on a study first done in 2008 and repeated in 2013.

“The high-resolution data, like the one collected by the Landsat program, allows us to detect human-caused alteration and fragmentation of forest wildlands,” Potapov said.

Presented at the Intact Forests in the 21st Century conference at Oxford University, the finding will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication, said Potapov, who delivered a keynote to the three-day gathering.

Addressing colleagues from around the world, Potapov also challenged the effectiveness of a global voluntary certification system.

Set up in 1994 and backed by green groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, the self-stated mission of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is to “promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests”.

Many forest-products carry the FSC label, designed to reassure eco-conscious consumers.

But approximately half of all intact forest landscapes inside FSC-certified concessions were lost from 2000 to 2016 in Gabon and the Republic of Congo, the new data showed. In Cameroon, about 90 percent of FSC-monitored forest wildlands disappeared.
“FSC is an effective mechanism to fragment and degrade remaining intact forest landscapes, not a tool for their protection,” Potapov said.

National and regional parks have helped to slow the rate of decline.

The chances of forest loss were found to be three times higher outside protected areas than inside them, the researchers reported.

Source Link: https://www.phnompenhpost.com/international/future-without-intact-forests

Could El Niño and climate change spell the end for tropical forests?

Could El Niño and climate change spell the end for tropical forests?

by  on 25 June 2018

In summer 2014, governments across tropical Asia readied for a looming weather and political emergency – potential droughts, crop failures, and food shortages that could stress developing world nations and challenge their ability to respond. According to weather observatories, the chance of an El Niño event occurring before the year’s end was high. The central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean was warming up, a predictive precursor of El Niño, a temporary increase in global temperature that at its worst can generate a worldwide cascade of catastrophic changes to weather patterns.

It was a false alarm. But the following year El Niño materialized with a vengeance. Boosted by the earlier warmth in the Pacific, the 2015-16 El Niño turned out to be one of the strongest events on record. Intense droughts affected almost 40 million people in southern Africa; flooding swept South American countries, displacing 150,000 people; and coral reefs experienced the most significant bleaching event scientists have ever seen, with nearly all corals in some parts of the Great Barrier Reef dying due to the high temperatures.

In space, a new NASA satellite, launched on 2 July 2014, allowed scientists to study the El Niño’s rise and fall, and its effects on the global carbon cycle in greater detail than ever before. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) was equipped with sensitive instruments able to measure atmospheric CO2 concentrations ten times more accurately than previous methods.

Overall, the 2015-16 El Niño led to the fastest rise in atmospheric COon record, and helped push CO2 concentrations above 400 ppm for a full year for the first time in modern history. The OCO-2 findings went deeper. They revealed that the sudden surge in CO2 was greatly enhanced by emissions coming from the tropical forests of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia – all responding to the El Niño by temporarily shifting from carbon sink to source. However, there were striking regional differences in each forest’s response.

Because El Niño conditions, with their elevated temperatures, may reflect what tropical climates will look like in the future as climate change escalates, such events “represent a massive experiment where we can get a glimpse of how these ecosystems” might respond, said Anders Ahlström, a scientist at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

And with tropical forests storing almost 250 billion tons of carbon, their fate has major implications for the earth’s atmosphere – and life on earth.

“[T]his research shows that [El Niño] is truly a global phenomenon, impacting all the world’s tropical regions and beyond,” said William Laurance, of James Cook University, Australia, and a Mongabay board member. The “region-specific effects on forests and ecosystems” were intriguing, he said, “reflecting nuances of the global climate that we hadn’t appreciated previously.”

A glimpse of our climate change future

OCO-2 continues to record 100,000 to 200,000 measurements a day as it orbits the earth, documenting CO2 concentrations in regions where terrestrial measurement stations are few and far between. As such, it allows for the pinpointing of carbon sources and sinks in places like the Congo, Amazon and Indonesian rainforests.

Using this data to make large-scale inferences about the global carbon cycle was hailed as “an important milestone,” by Emanuel Gloor, of the University of Leeds. It gets “us closer to near-real-time monitoring of ecosystem function and carbon cycle dynamics,” said Trevor Keenan, of the University of California, Berkeley.

“Previously, limited data in the tropics greatly limited our ability to determine key processes, or even to pin down which regions of the tropics were responding most strongly,” to El Niño events, explained Junjie Liu of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, who led the research.

Liu’s team found that during the 2015-16 El Niño, extreme drought meant trees stopped absorbing CO2 in South America. In Southeast Asia, forest fires raged in extremely dry conditions, quickly releasing stored carbon. And in tropical Africa, high temperatures resulted in increased ecosystem respiration.

Together, the three regions emitted 2.5 gigatons more carbon during the 2015-16 El Niño than during the opposing phase of the cycle, known as La Niña, in 2011, with emissions split roughly evenly between the three forest regions. That’s comparable to “about a third of all the emissions from fossil fuel burning,” commented OCO-2 science team member Scott Denning when the research was published – but it wasn’t the scale of the emissions that surprised Liu.

“I was more surprised by the complexity of the Earth’s carbon-climate system,” she said.

Worsening Amazon drought and tree death

The 2015-16 El Niño brought record-breaking temperatures and the third major droughtin a decade to the Amazon, affecting an area 20 percent greater than ever previously observed.

At first, drought causes trees to absorb less CO2 as they slow their photosynthesis rate, or stop photosynthesizing completely, to conserve water. But if conditions become extremely dry, hydraulic failure may occur: air bubbles form in the trees’ xylem – the channels that carry water from the roots to the canopy, resulting in tree death.

“Once a tree dies it will slowly decompose, releasing all the carbon it had stored in its leaves, stems and roots back up to the atmosphere,” explained Lucy Rowland, of the University of Exeter.

Many species of tree are already near their limit of drought tolerance due to climate change, according to a 2012 study. Even a small shift to drier conditions could lead to hydraulic failure for 70 percent of 226 forest species, the research found. “[R]apid forest collapse as a result of drought could convert the world’s tropical forests from [CO2] sink to source during this century,” the scientists reported.

Climate models predict that Amazon droughts will become more common in the future, said Juan Carlos Jiménez-Muñoz, of the University of Valencia, which could result in an intensifying positive feedback loop. “In simple terms, more warming [leads to] more severe droughts, and maybe [to] more extreme El Niño events, which in turn leads to more severe droughts linked to El Niño conditions.”

Paulo Brando, of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, U.S., said that some resilience to droughts is to be expected, because the Amazon rainforest “has adapted to periodic droughts over millions of years.” But when multiple droughts hit in quick succession – as seen in 2005 and 2010, and again with the intense 2015-16 event – there is limited time for recovery, Jiménez-Muñoz said. This reduces forest resilience, increasing the chances of degradation “with implications [for] carbon uptake.”

“A major ‘unknown’ is whether Amazon forests are resilient enough to cope with [the] intensification of drought regimes,” that’s predicted to accompany future climate and land use change, explained Brando. A better understanding of the recovery capacity of forests is needed in order to know “how much is too much” for Amazon forests, he said.

The Amazon also saw a peak in fire activity during the 2015-16 event, Brando added. “A major concern is that with mega-droughts becoming more common in the near future, fires could burn forested areas that are currently too moist to carry a fire.” Wildfires dump the stored carbon in trees all at once into the atmosphere.

Southeast Asia: forests on fire

By late 2015, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand were without clear sight of the sun, as smoke clouded the sky. Indonesia’s forest fire crisis engulfed the region in a toxic haze which was later shown to have affected 69 million people; over 100,000 likely died as a result.

In total, 2.6 million hectares (more than 10,000 square miles) of land burned. At their peak, daily greenhouse gas emissions from the fires exceeded those of the USA, according to research by Guido van der Werf of the University of Amsterdam.

“What makes Indonesia special [compared with other tropical forest regions] is that a substantial part of the tropical forest is on peatland, and that the human factor is much more important,” van der Werf explained. “If you look at a map with forest loss over the past decades, there is hardly anything untouched.”

Peatlands are especially carbon-rich, accumulating organic material over thousands of years. Draining the peatlands “lowers the water table so the land can be worked on [for agriculture], but it also means the peat starts to decompose,” said van der Werf. “During an El Niño, dry conditions lead to even lower water tables which makes both the forests and peat vulnerable to fire, and humans take advantage of these drought conditions to burn the forests,” in order to clear more croplands, especially for oil palm production.

Fires frequently burn out of control, said David Gaveau of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), destroying larger areas of forest than originally intended. “Once the forest has burned, one would expect the forest to recover,” he said, but an increased risk of subsequent fires “leads many forests to cycles of repeated burns.”

“Such cycles have converted millions of hectares of old-growth and selectively logged forest to fire-prone low vegetation: scrublands and fern fields. Once the land has reached that state, it is nearly impossible for the forest to grow back,” he said.

“The drought-fire mechanism in peatland depends on the [level] of [the] groundwater table [in relation] to the surface, that maintains [the] water content of [the] upper peat layer,” explained Muh Taufik of Wageningen University.

If the groundwater level becomes depleted, this is known as hydrological drought. Taufik’s research has shown that in years of hydrological drought, fires burned ten times the area of forest as in non-drought years. Taufik also found that there has been a general drying trend in Borneo’s groundwater over the last century, making the forests ever more susceptible to fire.

Lan Qie, of Imperial College London, highlights a second major threat to Borneo’s forests: fragmentation. This is a “persistent and progressive threat,” said Qie, whose research has shown that forest fragment edges, adjacent to fields or oil palm plantations, are significant sources of carbon emissions because trees are more likely to die if they are near an edge.

A fragment needs to be larger than 300 hectares (about one square mile) in order for carbon uptake to outweigh carbon loss, Qie and colleagues reported.

But even where intact forests remain, extreme El Niño events can knock those forests off balance. Qie’s study also found that the 1997-98 El Niño, which was more pronounced in the region than the 2015-16 event, caused so much tree mortality due to drought that Borneo’s intact forests tipped from carbon sink to source.

The good news: these forests recovered quickly, suggesting that intact forests have a degree of resilience to even strong droughts, Qie said. Southeast Asia’s Dipterocarp forests have evolved “under a climate regime including El Niño-driven supra-annual droughts,” she added, with periodic, synchronized mass-seeding being an adaptation to these conditions. But, as has been seen in the Amazon, “it is possible that the resilience of the Borneo [carbon] sink may also be challenged in the future,” Qie concluded.

Again, it is a matter of “how much is too much,” but no one currently knows where the tipping point may be, beyond which climate stressed tropical forests won’t be able to recover.

Congo discovery

Until recently, Indonesia’s peatlands were thought to be the largest tropical peatlands in the world. But in January 2017, scientists published confirmation of a discovery: peat forests in the Congo basin covering 145,500 square kilometers (56,177 square miles) knocked Indonesia’s peatlands into second place.

With the Congo peatlands containing 30 billion tons of carbon, the future of tropical African forests is even more critical for the global carbon cycle than scientists realized at the time of the OCO-2 launch in 2014.

The OCO-2 research revealed that tropical African forests did not dry out during the 2015-16 El Niño event: instead, rainfall levels remained normal. But temperatures did rise, driving increased ecosystem respiration, which resulted in heightened CO2emissions.

However, with on-the-ground weather data so limited across tropical Africa, the OCO-2 scientists reported that it was “challenging to verify” the link between temperature and carbon emissions that their remote-sensing data and models identified

This lack of data is also a hindrance when looking ahead. “[T]here are still many uncertainties as to how the climate will change across Central Africa in response to increased greenhouse gas emission,” said Greta Dargie, who led the Congo peatland research, and there is “little consensus amongst the climate models for projections of precipitation patterns across the region.”

The Congo peatlands “appear to be strongly dependent on rainfall for the maintenance of their water tables,” said Dargie, of the University of St. Andrews. A reduction in rainfall, or an increase in evapotranspiration – the movement of water from the soil, up through a tree’s trunk and leaves, into the atmosphere – which could occur if temperatures increase, “could lead to the peatlands becoming drier and therefore result in an increase in carbon dioxide emissions,” she said. But more research is needed to fully understand these mechanisms.

Future feedbacks: could tropical forests collapse?

What can these diverse responses to El Niño tell us about the climate future of tropical forests?

“Predicting the exact responses of tropical forests to climate change is tricky,” said Rowland. “We know they are likely to suffer as a result of rising temperatures and increasing droughts, but […] some of this damage may be partially off-set by increasing CO2 concentrations which will allow them to photosynthesise more.”

However, even without knowing how big the effect will be, “the response of tropical forests to climate change will almost certainly be negative,” Rowland concluded.

If climate change mirrors El Niño conditions “it may result in more carbon dioxide released from tropical forests, and more carbon dioxide remaining in the atmosphere, further warming our planet,” said Liu. A warmer planet could see more frequent extreme El Niño events, resulting in further detrimental interactions between cyclical El Niños, tropical forests, carbon emissions and worsening climate change.

The emissions from El Niño events also have a long-term cumulative effect: “global [atmospheric] CO2 levels have permanently ratchet[ed] up a notch [as a result of] the strong 2015-2016 El Niño event,” Liu explained.

But the magnitude of the most recent El Niño’s carbon emissions may be smaller than one might expect, considering the event’s near record intensity, said Gloor, which is some good news for forest resilience. “Interestingly, and maybe surprisingly, the global atmospheric concentration record does not show any signs that carbon release during the 2015/16 El Niño was anomalously large compared to other El Niño [events] in the past,” once fossil fuel emissions are taken into account, he said.

“Thus, so far, tropical forests seem to be able to cope with the steadily increasing temperatures, even when further enhanced during El Niño phases,” he concluded. However, “the very rapid increase in temperatures is unprecedented. My guess is that if [peak dry season] temperatures move towards 45-50 degrees [Celsius, 113-122 degrees Fahrenheit] then forests may not be able to cope.”

If tropical forests cannot cope, then this globally important carbon store and sink could be at stake.

The possibility of a looming tipping point — when the world’s tropical forests cease to act as a sink, and become a permanent source of carbon — is an active area of research. “Some models project tropical forests will change from a sink to a source for carbon later in this century,” said Keenan, although “there is large disagreement between model projections.”

“[O]ur satellite record isn’t long enough yet to distinguish between” those varying model predictions, Liu explained. To get a better handle on if and when tipping points may occur, “we need a longer data record that [is] sensitive to changes of tropical forest carbon fluxes, such as [that provided by] OCO-2 type satellites, as well as field studies and experiments that can push tropical systems artificially into new conditions,” she said.

Human activity key

Irrespective of the timing of any climate-induced tipping point, human activity changing the face of the world’s tropical forests may ultimately prove to be more critical.

“Currently the biggest threat to tropical forests remains, in my opinion, sadly, still human destruction,” said Gloor.

Taking the impact of deforestation and degradation into account, tropical forest regions are already making a substantial contribution to annual anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. A recent study concluded that, overall, all tropical forest regions are net carbon sources already.

“[G]iven that both fires and peat oxidation are so substantial, it is unlikely that the Indonesian forests as a whole are sinks,” concluded van der Werf. In a drained peatland, “carbon goes out much faster than it went in.”

For the Amazon, Ahlström anticipates that three factors will determine whether the forest will be resilient in the long-term: “future changes in rainfall; the ecosystems’ ability to adapt to new, warmer and more extreme climates that have no present analogue; and deforestation.”

Tropical biologist Tom Lovejoy and climate scientist Carlos Nobre agree that deforestation may help spell the end of the Amazon rainforest. In a recent commentary piece, the two researchers argue that “negative synergies between deforestation, climate change, and widespread use of fire indicate a tipping point for the Amazon system to flip to non-forest ecosystems in eastern, southern and central Amazonia at 20-25 percent deforestation.” Lovejoy previously told Mongabay that he saw the major droughts since 2005 as the “first flickerings” of this process.

Given the large uncertainties surrounding how tropical forests will respond as the climate warms, taking action to keep forests standing and healthy may offer the single best hope for mitigating negative impacts. Annual greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by up to 30 percent if tropical deforestation was halted, and forests were allowed to recover.

In the meantime, more research is needed “in order to understand the likely future trajectory of the tropical carbon sink” and “directly inform policy” said Keenan. Liu agrees to the need for more tropical data, coupled with the right tools “to piece those data [sets] together into a complete picture” and “improve our understanding of how the earth system works.”

Laurance concludes, “[c]learly, we still have a lot to learn about Earth’s climate, and how it affects life and ecosystems.” The big unknowns: are dangerous climate and deforestation tipping points approaching faster than we can understand and respond to them?

Citation:

Liu, J., Bowman, K. W., Schimel, D. S. et al. (2017) Contrasting carbon cycle responses of the tropical continents to the 2015–2016 El Niño. Science 358: eaam5690

Source Link: https://news.mongabay.com/2018/06/could-el-nino-and-climate-change-spell-the-end-for-tropical-forests/

Rain puts out forest fire on Mt Lawu

Rain puts out the forest fire on Mt Lawu

Ganug Nugroho Adi

The Jakarta Post

Karanganyar, Central Java | Thu, June 21, 2018, 04:27 pm

Heavy rain, which fell on Wednesday, has doused the forest fire on Mount Lawu, Karanganyar regency, Central Java.

Climbers, who were on the peak at the time of the fire, have been safely evacuated. However, all trails have been closed until further notice.

“Yes, the fire is out,” said Bambang Djatmiko, the head of the Karanganyar Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), on Thursday. “The rain that fell on Wednesday afternoon doused it.”

Bambang confirmed that there were about 400 climbers on the mountain when the fire broke out. The BPBD assigned dozens of volunteers from Candi Cetho to fight it and look for climbers.

Around 200 people were evacuated by volunteers from BPBD Karanganyar and Search and Rescue (SAR), while the rest had descended the mountain on their own.

“The last of the 50 climbers have descended,” said Bambang. “They were not trapped but took a rest at the second post, which is far from the hot spot. All of them have returned uninjured.”

Meanwhile, the head of state-run forestry firm Perhutani’s forest functionary office (BPKH) in North Lawu, Edy Saryono, said the hot spot was first detected on Tuesday afternoon on the Argo Tiling peak.

 “Not a single tree was destroyed by the fire. So there’s no need to plant new ones,” added Edy.

He said although the source of the fire was still unknown, he assumed it could have been caused by locals who were making charcoal in the area. (wir/wng)

Source Link: http://www.thejakartapost.com/travel/2018/06/21/rain-puts-out-forest-fire-on-mt-lawu.html

Myanmar one of several countries in danger of losing its ‘intact forest’ by 2030

Myanmar one of several countries in danger of losing its ‘intact forest’ by 2030

By AFP

On Thursday, 21 June 2018

Earth’s intact forests shrank by an area larger than Austria every year from 2014 to 2016 at a 20 percent faster rate than during the previous decade, scientists said 20 June as the UN unveiled an initiative to harness the “untapped potential” of the land sector to fight climate change.

Myanmar is one of several countries where the forests could be heavily decimated by 2030, according to scientists.

Despite a decades-long effort to halt deforestation, nearly 10 percent of undisturbed forests have been fragmented, degraded or simply chopped down since 2000, according to the analysis of satellite imagery.

Average daily loss over the first 17 years of this century was more than 200 square kilometers (75 square miles).

“Degradation of intact forest represents a global tragedy, as we are systematically destroying a crucial foundation of climate stability,” said Frances Seymour, a senior distinguished fellow at the World Resources Institute (WRI), and a contributor to the research, presented this week at a conference in Oxford.

“Forests are the only safe, natural, proven and affordable infrastructure we have for capturing and storing carbon.”

The findings come as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and five major conservation organizations launched a five-year plan, Nature4Climate, to better leverage land use in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming.

“Thirty-seven percent of what is needed to stay below two degrees Celsius” — the cornerstone goal of the 196-nation Paris Agreement — “can be provided by land,” said Andrew Steer, WRI President, and CEO.

“But only three percent of the public funding for mitigation goes to land and forest issues — that needs to change,” he told AFP.

Beyond climate, the last forest frontiers play a critical role in maintaining biodiversity, weather stability, clean air, and water quality.

Some 500 million people worldwide depend directly on forests for their livelihood.

A future without intact forests?

So-called “intact forest landscapes” — which can include wetlands and natural grass pastures — are defined as areas of at least 500 sq km with no visible evidence in satellite images of large-scale human use.

That means no roads, industrial agriculture, mines, railways, canals or transmission lines.

As of January 2017, there was about 11.6 million sq km of forests worldwide that still fit these criteria. From 2014 to 2016, that area declined by more than 87,000 km2 each year.

“Many countries may lose all their forest wildlands in the next 15 to 20 years,” Peter Potapov, an associate professor at the University of Maryland and lead scientist for the research, told AFP.

On current trends, intact forests will disappear by 2030 in Paraguay, Laos, and Equatorial Guinea, and by 2040 in the Central African Republic, Nicaragua, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Angola.

“There could come a point in the future where no areas in the world qualify as ‘intact’ anymore,” said Tom Evans, director for forest conservation and climate mitigation at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“It is certainly worrying.”

In tropical countries, the main causes of virgin forest loss are conversion to agriculture and logging. In Canada and the United States, fire is the main culprit, while in Russia and Australia, the destruction has been driven by fires, mining, and energy extraction.

Compared to annual declines during the period 2000-2013, Russia lost, on average, 90 percent more each year from 2014 to 2016.

For Indonesia, the increase was 62 percent, and for Brazil, it was 16 percent.

The new results are based on a worldwide analysis of satellite imagery, built on a study first done in 2008 and repeated in 2013.

– Protected areas –

“The high-resolution data, like the one collected by the Landsat programme, allows us to detect human-caused alteration and fragmentation of forest wildlands,” said Potapov.

Presented at the Intact Forests in the 21st Century conference at Oxford University, the finding will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication, said Potapov, who delivered a keynote to the three-day gathering.

Addressing colleagues from around the world, Potapov also challenged the effectiveness of a global voluntary certification system.

Set up in 1994 and backed by green groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, the self-stated mission of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is to “promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.”

Many forest-products carry the FSC label, designed to reassure eco-conscious consumers.

But approximately half of all intact forest landscapes inside FSC-certified concessions were lost from 2000 to 2016 in Gabon and the Republic of Congo, the new data showed.

In Cameroon, about 90 percent of FSC-monitored forest wildlands disappeared.

“FSC is an effective mechanism to fragment and degrade remaining intact forest landscapes, not a tool for their protection,” Potapov said.

National and regional parks have helped to slow the rate of decline.

The chances of forest loss were found to be three times higher outside protected areas than inside them, the researchers reported.

AFP

Source Link: http://www.mizzima.com/news-domestic-international/myanmar-one-several-countries-danger-losing-its-intact-forest’-2030

BMKG satellites detect 78 hotspots across Sumatera

BMKG satellites detect 78 hotspots across Sumatera

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Thu, June 7, 2018, 05:28 pm

The Terra and Aqua satellites have detected 78 hotspots across Sumatra, indicating the possible occurrence of forest fires.

Sukisno, head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Pekanbaru, Riau, said the satellites detected the most recent hot spot at 6 a.m. local time on Thursday.

Based on the satellites’ images, the hot spots are spread out across Sumatra. Most were detected in Riau, with 23 hot spots, followed by Bengkulu ( 18 ), Aceh ( 10 ), Jambi (four) and West Sumatra (two). Four were detected in Jambi and one Bangka Belitung and the Riau Islands.

“The weather in Riau is cloudy with a possibility of mild rain,” Sukisno said as quoted by tempo.co on Thursday.

The Riau administration previously declared an emergency for forest fires to prevent further flare-ups from affecting the upcoming 2018 Asian Games in Palembang, South Sumatra.

Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Edward Sanger said the emergency status would end on Nov.30.

“The President has instructed the National Disaster Mitigation Agency to prevent any haze disasters caused by forest fires during the Asian Games,” he said. (dpk/ebf)

Benedictine monks see red over Vietnam forest fires

Benedictine monks see red over Vietnam forest fires

Brothers claim blazes were started deliberately and ask authorities and individuals to respect their dignity

ucanews.com reporter, Hue City
Vietnam, May 29, 2018

Benedictine monks in a central Vietnam province have criticized authorities for ignoring forest fires that they claim were started deliberately.

Brother Stanislas Tran Minh Vong said two fires were found in pine forest around the Benedictine Monastery of Thien An just outside the ancient city of Hue in Thua Thien Hue province on the afternoons of May 22 and 23.

Brother Vong, 81, said 50 monks used water pipes, hoes, shovels, knives and other tools to extinguish the first fire, which broke out about 300 meters from the monastery.

“A group of gangsters shouted at us and tried to prevent us from extinguishing the fire, which was approaching the monastery,” he said. They also told the monks that the forest does not belong to the monastery.

Two security officers from Thuy Bang commune saw the incident but did nothing to stop the flames. “They tried to take away cameras from some monks who were videoing the fire to find its cause,” said Brother Vong.

Brother Vong said the second fire was put out by Benedictines and some soldiers.

Father Louis Gonzaga Dang Hung Tan, head of the monastery, said four fires have started in the area this year. They destroyed five hectares of pine forest planted by the monks decades ago.

“After examining the scene, we confirm that these fires were caused by people. All fires aimed to cause disorder to the monks’ life and religious activities,” Father Tan said.

The priest said some groups of strangers have broken into the monastery and watched the monks’ work for recent months. However, they have never been present at fires and protected the monastery’s properties, he added.

He also accused some individuals and organizations of destroying and confiscating the monks’ land and properties.

The monks have had legal ownership of the monastery and its 107 hectares of pine forest and farmland since 1940.

Since 1975, local authorities have “borrowed” or confiscated land and assigned it to state-run forestry and tourism companies. The monks were allowed to retain only six hectares of land including the monastery.

The monks say they have never transferred the ownership of properties or land to any individual or organization.

“We ask relevant individuals and organizations to respect our dignity and basic human rights by laws,” Father Tan said.

He demanded they stop starting forest fires and preserve the pine forest and the monks’ spiritual values, which help create a clean environment.

The area is now in the dry season lasting from May to September. Five rainwater containers at the monastery are running out and pools used to water orange farms have dried up. Monks have to carry water 10 kilometers to use for their daily activities.

“It is unfair that we are not allowed to use our 49-hectare lake near the monastery,” said Father Tan, referring to a lake confiscated by the government.

Source Link: https://www.ucanews.com/news/benedictine-monks-see-red-over-vietnam-forest-fires/82435

Fighting fires on Indonesia’s peatlands

Fighting fires on Indonesia’s peatlands

22 May 2018

The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 the International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. As one of the world’s most valuable ecosystems, peatlands support diverse species, including orangutans. Yet until recently, peatlands were drained and set ablaze for agriculture, producing an ecological catastrophe that sparked the need for change.

It’s now been three years since massive fires ravaged Indonesia in one of the worst environmental disasters of our century.

The blazes in 2015 scorched 2.6 million hectares across the archipelago, and produced toxic haze that blanketed neighboring countries Singapore and Malaysia. Thousands fell ill, and the Indonesian government suffered $16 billion in economic losses – more than double the sum spent on rebuilding Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, according to the World Bank.

What ignited this catastrophe? More importantly, what is being done to prevent it from reoccurring?

Community champions

Beads of sweat trickled down Udeng’s face as he hauled a heavy hose across the field during a practice drill with his fellow firefighters.

The 45-year-old father of four is from Tumbang Nusa, a village located in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan Province on Borneo that was an epicenter of the 2015 disaster.

“The fires were very bad,” he said. “I’m here to do my part to make sure they don’t happen again.” At the time, Udeng’s kids fell ill with asthma and his wife evacuated them to a neighboring village for almost a month because their home became inhospitable.

Spurred to action, Udeng joined Indonesia’s network of district-level volunteer firefighting brigades, known as “Masyarakat Peduli Api (MPA)”, which are formed by local village heads. Although Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry established a Forest Fire Brigade at the national level called the “Manggala Agni (MA)”, its capacity is frequently overextended given its vast mandate. This makes the volunteers invaluable. Yet many of them lack proper training and equipment given the informal nature of their units.

To remedy this, in May, intensive training was conducted for 66 volunteer firefighters from six of Central Kalimantan’s most fire-prone villages under the UN Environment project “Generating Anticipatory Measures for Better Utilization of Tropical Peatlands (GAMBUT)”, which is funded by USAID and operated by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

The training was facilitated by highly experienced South African firefighters from the Working on Fire Program who first came to Indonesia in 2015 to assist with the disaster, and have since been collaborating with the UN Environment project as a key partner to increase knowledge exchange and sharing between the two Southern Hemisphere countries.

“Teaching the technical skills is the easy part,” said Trevor Wilson, Executive Director of Working on Fire. “The biggest challenge is changing the way local people think about fire, so the course stresses 80 per cent fire prevention and only 20 per cent fire suppression, because the best fires are the ones that never happen.”

Peat as tinderboxes

For decades, Indonesia’s smallholder farmers have been using fire to clear land for crops to produce commodities like palm oil, of which Indonesia is now the world’s biggest producer. But intentional fires often spiral out of control, particularly during the annual dry season.

Particularly problematic is when these fires ignite on peatland. Peat is comprised of 90 per cent water and 10 per cent organic matter (decaying plants underwater). Peat fires can thus smolder underground for weeks. They are nearly impossible to put out without heavy rains.

“Peatlands need to remain underwater. If you drain them, you are left with a pile of organic materials like leaves and branches, which are extremely flammable,” said Johan Kieft, Lead Technical Advisor for the UN-REDD Programme in Indonesia, an initiative by UN Environment, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to support developing countries in their efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Of the 2.6 million hectares that burned between June-October 2015, 33 per cent occurred on peatlands. When the wildfires broke out, they were exacerbated by an El Niño year that caused an unusually severe dry spell. In normal circumstances, the wildfires would have abated after a few weeks, but in 2015, they raged for months.

Peat and climate change

After the 2015 crisis put a global spotlight on peatlands, Indonesia responded by banning the use of fire in clearing peatlands, establishing a national Peatlands Restoration Agency (BRG), as well as pledging to restore 2 million hectares of peatlands by 2020.

The UN-REDD Programme is working closely with Indonesia to raise awareness about peatlands, given that the country is home to half of the world’s tropical peatlands.

Peat is one of nature’s most effective ways of taking carbon out of the atmosphere and stocking it underground, making it crucial to the fight against climate change. On the flip side, when drained and set ablaze, they can release 10 times more carbon than forest fires.

“By preserving peat, we preserve precious carbon because peat is the largest terrestrial carbon stock in the world,” said Kieft.

For more information contact Leona Liu leona.liu@un.org +66 22882186

Source: https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/fighting-fires-indonesias-peatlands

Singapore set for third straight haze-free year

Singapore set for third straight haze-free year

PUBLISHED MAY 19, 2018, 5:00 AM SGT

Indonesian minister says there won’t be a repeat of 2015 crisis in 2018, thanks to steps taken