Washington, March 18 (ANI): A new study has suggested that the use of prescribed burns to manage western forests may help the United States reduce its carbon footprint.
Results of the study found that such burns, often used by forest managers to reduce underbrush and protect bigger trees, release substantially less carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than wildfires of the same size.
"It appears that prescribed burns can be an important piece of a climate change strategy," said Christine Wiedinmyer, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, and lead author of the new study.
"If we reintroduce fires into our ecosystems, we may be able to protect larger trees and significantly reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by major wildfires," she added.
Drawing on satellite observations and computer models of emissions, scientists concluded that widespread prescribed burns can reduce fire emissions of carbon dioxide in the West by an average of 18 to 25 percent, and by as much as 60 percent in certain forest systems.
To determine whether prescribed burns would likely affect the carbon balance, the scientists first estimated actual carbon emissions from fires for 11 western states from 2001 to 2008.
The scientists used satellite observations of fires and a sophisticated computer model, developed by Wiedinmyer, that estimates carbon dioxide emissions based on the mass of vegetation burned.
Their next step was to estimate the extent of carbon emissions if western forests, during the same time period, had been subjected to a comprehensive program of prescribed burns.
The scientists used maps of vegetation types, focusing on the forest types that are subject to frequent natural fires and, therefore, would be top candidates for prescribed burns.
Emissions in the model were based on observations of emissions from prescribed burns of specific types of forests.
The results showed that carbon emissions were reduced by anywhere from 37 to 63 percent for the forests that had been subject to prescribed burns, depending on the vegetation mix and location of the forests.
Overall, carbon emissions for the 11 Western states were reduced by an annual average of 14 million metric tons.
That's the equivalent of about 0.25 percent of annual US carbon dioxide emissions, or slightly more than the annual carbon dioxide emissions from all fossil fuel sources in some less-populated states, such as Rhode Island or South Dakota.
The study also noted that prescribed burns could lead to additional air quality benefits. (ANI)