Equilibrium/Sustainability — Magpies outsmart the scientists studying them

The CIRES survey looked at years 2005-2018 — meaning that the statistics were already stark before the record-setting fire years of 2020 and 2021 were included.

And even as fires get worse, people are continue to move into fire zones across the West, like the new Denver neighborhoods that burned over New Years, as we reported.

“These convergent trends, more large fires more intensifying development, mean that the worst fire disasters are still to come,” coauthor William Travis, deputy director of CIRES’ Earth Lab, said in a statement.

Elder trees offer aid: During hot, dry Western summers, the melting snow from mountain snowpack serves as a kind of battery that helps hydrate forests, lowering the risk of destructive fire.

Another study published on Tuesday found that the biggest, oldest trees — which also tended to be the most fire resistant — helped shade snowpack, keeping it from melting off too quickly.

“Snow is a key resource for fresh water supply and ecosystem function,” according to a statement from first author Michaela Teich of Austria’s Federal Research and Training Center for Forests, Natural Hazards and Landscape.

“Our study highlights that conserving big trees — the very trees that often survive forest fires — in forest ecosystems where fire is part of the ecological cycle can help facilitate both,” Teich added.

That makes the conservation of large, old trees with big canopies essential to maintaining snowmelt for as long as possible, the scientists found.

Some rare good news: Even when huge destructive fires happen — like California’s enormous Creek Fire in September 2020 — they may not release nearly as much carbon dioxide as previously thought, a study in the journal Forests has found.

While some studies have suggested that such severe fires burn up between 65 and 80 percent of tree biomass — all of which would end up in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide — a team from Oregon State University found that this was wildly overestimated.

How overestimated? While some branches were burned up entirely, the scientists found that only 0.5 percent of live trees went up in smoke. While many were still killed, the slow process of natural composition could keep their carbon stable for centuries — whereas, if they’re logged to create biomass energy, they would enter the atmosphere almost immediately.

The scientists suggest that the discrepancy in how much carbon dioxide is generated by wildfires came from an overreliance on remote observation and computer modeling — which risked erroneously pushing climate policy toward questionable solutions like biomass.

Last words: “We suggest that researchers and policy makers avoid using combustion rates not based on field study as they appear to overstate the wildfire emissions used in carbon emissions reporting,” coauthor Dominick DellaSala said in a statement.

“This can potentially misdirect climate mitigation policy,” he added.

Thursday Threats

The onesustainability of life under siege.

‘It is hell:’ siege of Ukrainian city squeezes those left inside

Economic impact of war in Ukraine to hit world’s poorest hardest: OECD

  • The economic impact of the war in Ukraine could take a particularly devastating toll low-income individuals, as energy and food prices surge and global economic growth plummets, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said on Thursday, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Microplastics from European rivers may accumulate in Arctic Ocean: study

  • Floating microplastics known to accumulate in parts of the Arctic Ocean, as well as in the Nordic Seas and Baffin Bay, likely originate in European rivers, according to a study in Scientific Reports, which has revealed the source of this pollution for the first time.

Please visit The Hill’s sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you on Friday.


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