Forest Fires Cool the Climate?

by Matt Ball on July 27, 2008

The University of Colorado and NOAA have conducted a study on the impact of the North American wildfire season on global warming. Apparently, the smoke transported to the Arctic may cool the surface for several weeks or months. You can read the full report here.

While it makes sense to me that smoke in the atmosphere would somewhat block the rays of the sun to cool the surface below, I find it hard to reconcile this study with others that are looking at the carbon produced by fires as an impact to global warming. I’m wondering if the cooling affect of smoke offsets the carbon dioxide that is sent into the atmosphere.

I found other research that leads to greater ambiguity for me about this issue. There are larger fires primarily due to fire suppression, but if fires are allowed to burn the forest loses its ability to contain carbon for some time.

There are obviously many conflicting studies about the carbon cycle of forests, their benefit when standing and when they burn or are cleared. I’m sure it will take some time to get a handle on the complete picture.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Le Messurier July 27, 2008 at 6:13 pm

It had already been predicted by some climatologists that the arctic would be cooler (citing evidence that the warming trends have leveled off and are beginning to decline) this year than last. This prediction was BEFORE the fire season began. The introduction of smoke-from-fires scenario as a contributor to arctic cooling will allow the radical earth-warmers an excuse when the arctic ocean doesn’t have open water all the way to the North Pole this year as many of them have predicted. How convenient! They are so full of BS it isn’t even funny!

Matt Ball July 27, 2008 at 7:52 pm

The subject was introduced to illustrate needed research into the complex ecosystem services from forests as well as the outcomes of fires. I don’t agree with your radical conclusion that climate warming isn’t happening.

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