When bogs burn, the environment takes a hit | Science News

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When bogs burn, the environment takes a hit

The peat sequestered in the wet ground keeps much of Earth’s carbon out of the atmosphere

By
12:00pm, March 6, 2018
peatland fire in Indonesia

SMOKE SIGNALS  Peatland fires in Riau Province, Indonesia, burned in August 2016, releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere. Climate change and agriculture are putting peatlands at risk.

In 2015, massive wildfires burned through Indonesia, sending thick smoke and haze as far as Thailand.

These fires were “the worst environmental disaster in modern history,” says Thomas Smith, a wildfire expert at King’s College London. Smith estimates that the fires and smoke killed 100,000 people in Indonesia and neighboring countries and caused billions of dollars in damage. The fires were costly for the rest of the planet, too: At their peak, the blazes belched more climate-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each day than did all U.S. economic activity.

Two years later and 13,000 kilometers away, a fire smoldered on the fringes of a barren, northern landscape. The remote blaze could have gone unnoticed. But Jessica McCarty and other fire researchers actively monitor satellite imagery of Earth the way some people check Facebook. One Sunday in August, McCarty, of Miami University in Ohio, was surprised to

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