The widespread fire in southern California is estimated to have emitted 7.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in just one-week period from October 19 to 26. According to Christine Wiedinmyer of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), who applied a computer model to analyse the emissions, 7.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide released during the fire is the equivalent of about 25 percent of the average monthly emissions from all fossil fuel burning throughout California.
“Enormous fires like this pump a large amount of carbon dioxide quickly into the atmosphere,” Wiedinmyer said, adding, “This can complicate efforts to understand our carbon budget and ultimately fight global warming.”
Wiedinmyer, along with Jason Neff of the University of Colorado, also did a research before the California fire broke out. The study suggests that large-scale fires in a western or southeastern state can pump as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in a few weeks as the state's entire motor vehicle traffic does in a year.
The research, to be published under the title ‘Estimates of CO2 from fires in the United States: implications for carbon management,’ was conducted using satellite observations of fires and a new computer model, developed by Wiedinmyer, that estimates carbon dioxide emissions based on the mass of vegetation burned, said a press release.
However, the researchers cautioned that their estimates have a margin of error of about 50 percent, because of inexact data about the extent of fires and varying estimates of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by different types of blazes.
The study estimates that fires in the contiguous US and Alaska release about 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, which is the equivalent of four to six percent of the nation's carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning.
“A striking implication of very large wildfires is that a severe fire season lasting only one or two months can release as much carbon as the annual emissions from the entire transportation or energy sector of an individual state,” the authors write.