Connect with us

Science

Canada's peatlands are tinderboxes that are more likely to ignite in a warming world – The Globe and Mail

Published

 on


Scorched trees stand near Britt, Ont., in the summer of 2018 after the Parry Sound 33 forest fire swept through the area. The fire spread in a part of the country where peat is abundant.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

When a devastating forest fire raged near Parry Sound, Ont., in 2018, Sophie Wilkinson, a postdoctoral researcher at McMaster University, was busy gathering data at a study site in northern Alberta. But once she knew her colleagues working near the fire were safe, all she wanted to do was get back there to see the result.

Nestled in a rocky inlet of Georgian Bay, Parry Sound is far from Canada’s Arctic and Subarctic wilderness. But the area has something in common with those more northerly reaches: an abundance of peat – dense layers of partly decayed vegetation that accumulate in moist places, generally over centuries. Long a neglected component of the landscape, peat is now in the scientific spotlight because of all the carbon that’s locked up in its pungent bulk. In a world increasingly ablaze with wildfires, the fate of that carbon is a matter of serious concern.

When peat burns, its carbon is released, and the peat switches from being a storehouse to a source of greenhouse gas emissions. This summer’s extensive fires in peat-rich Siberia loosed about as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as the Greater Toronto Area has generated over the past five years.

Story continues below advertisement

Total peatland (%)

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF CANADA

Total peatland (%)

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF CANADA

Total peatland (%)

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF CANADA

Globally, peatlands are estimated to store about 550 gigatonnes of carbon, more than all of the forests in the world combined. About one-quarter of that peat is found in Canada, with particularly dense concentrations in the Hudson Bay Lowlands and the Mackenzie River basin. Studies suggest this asset in Canada’s carbon accounting is at risk due to changing patterns of wildfire.

By chance, the Parry Sound fire, which ultimately consumed 11,362 hectares of woodland, burned across an area of peat deposits that McMaster scientists, led by ecohydrologist Mike Waddington, have been studying for seven years. Dr. Wilkinson is a member of the team, and with so much information at hand about what was there before, she was able to go in after the conflagration to measure precisely what impact the fire had.

“It was utterly desolate,” she said. “There was so little soil left that most of the trees had fallen over after they had burned, as well.”

Though fire is a natural process, what was striking about the Parry Sound event was its intensity and the way it penetrated into areas that would typically be considered too wet to burn easily. Dr. Wilkinson and her colleagues found that peat deposits that were less than 70 centimetres thick were completely incinerated. Areas like this may not return as peatlands, but instead be taken over by deep-rooted deciduous trees that drink up moisture. Trees store carbon too, but peat stores more, so a net loss of peatland after a fire is bad news for the climate.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, comes with a silver lining. Areas of deeper peat were shown to survive the fire and stay wet enough to rebound. But the work sheds new light on how vulnerable peatlands have become in places that are burning differently than they did in the past as the climate warms.

That trend is now indisputable, said Matthew Jones, an Earth systems scientist at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. In a brief released this week, Dr. Jones and four co-authors examined 116 separate studies and found that all of them either directly strengthen or are consistent with evidence that climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires in multiple regions of the globe. Not surprisingly, among the areas most affected by the trend are those that have been prominent in the news due to record-setting fires in the past year, including California and eastern Australia.

“By and large, the picture is that of a warming, drying world – which is not helpful when it comes to fires,” Dr Jones said. He added that forward-looking studies using climate models “are all pointing to this situation getting worse the more the temperature rises.”

Story continues below advertisement

Local and Greenpeace activists extinguish a peat fire near the Siberian village of Shipunovo on Sept. 11 this year.

ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images

Haze blankets the Rockies on Sept. 21 in wetern Montana as the smoke from wildfires in the western United States moves into other regions.

Samuel Corum/Getty Images

For now, the change in Canada is less extreme than in the western U.S., but it’s heading in the same direction. While the area burned has doubled in Canada since the 1970s, in California it has increased by about a factor of five, said Mike Flannigan, a professor at the University of Alberta who studies the link between climate change and fire.

Yet, the Arctic is also warming faster than the rest of the world, and this is where peatland is likely to play a bigger role in releasing carbon, creating a positive feedback cycle that spurs warming even further.

“That can really tip the effect of the wildfire season, even if the amount of area burned doesn’t change,” Dr. Wilkinson said.

Daniel Thompson, a fire scientist with Natural Resources Canada, said that fire in Canada’s northwest is clearly on the rise and is affecting peatlands in a way that’s different from the past.

The numbers bear this out. Of the 10 most severe wildfires in Canadian history, six have occurred within the past decade, all in the northwest. These include the Fort McMurray fire of 2016, which stands as Canada’s costliest natural disaster, and the massive fires near Yellowknife in 2014, which collectively burned an area larger than all of Vancouver Island.

While the numbers are startling, “this is not a new disturbance to the system,” Dr. Thompson said. “It’s more a question of frequency and intensity.”

Many of these Canadian wildfires have been raging in areas that are covered in peat. Sometimes referred to as “zombie fires,” there’s evidence that peat fires in the North can smoulder on through the winter and resurface anew in spring. And unlike the dramatic and very visible damage that fire has wrought further south, the most profound effects may be out of sight and underground. This is because peat often overlaps with another key feature of the Northern landscape: permafrost.

Permafrost is the permanently frozen ground that persists year-round below surface soil. When the Northern landscape burns, the permafrost below loses a measure of insulation that protects it during the summer months. Instead, the blackened, sooty surface left behind in a fire’s wake is ideal for absorbing sunlight and warming up the ground.

The loss of permafrost due to climate change is already a problem for Northern communities because it destabilizes the ground and threatens infrastructure. More broadly, scientists fear that melting permafrost is releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas, creating another feedback loop that can further accelerate climate change. In this scenario, fire adds another boost.

David Olefeldt, a wetland scientist at the University of Alberta, has been examining the interaction of peat, permafrost and fire. He said the effects are likely not all in one direction, in part because melting permafrost may also act to suppress fire. “More fire and more thaw changes the landscape to become wetter and less treed, and therefore it burns less,” he said. He’s currently studying the question, an example of how little scientists can say for certain about the fate of Northern ecosystems and their ultimate impact on the globe even as unprecedented change is under way. A shift in vegetation due to warming is yet another factor that has been difficult for researchers to take into account when modelling future change.

For Merritt Turetsky, director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder, the field is in urgent need of a co-ordinated and multidisciplinary effort to track the new reality in the North, and how changing fire conditions are playing into the story.

“We used to think of the Arctic as the last [ecosystem] unshaped by fire,” she said. “That’s not true any more.”

Story continues below advertisement

An activist works to extinguish one of Siberia’s peat fires this September.

ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Science

There will be a blue Hunter's Moon this Halloween – Yahoo Canada Sports

Published

 on


Full moon and clouds at nightFull moon and clouds at night

View photos

The October full moon is known as a Hunter’s Moon (Getty)
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Appropriately for the spookiest night of the year, there’ll be something unusual going on in the sky this Halloween – a blue Hunter’s Moon.&nbsp;” data-reactid=”32″>Appropriately for the spookiest night of the year, there’ll be something unusual going on in the sky this Halloween – a blue Hunter’s Moon

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The moon will not (sadly) be blue, but it’s the second full moon in the month which makes it a blue moon (by some definitions at least, see below).&nbsp;” data-reactid=”33″>The moon will not (sadly) be blue, but it’s the second full moon in the month which makes it a blue moon (by some definitions at least, see below). 

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Full moons are separated by 29 days, NASA says, and most months are 30 or 31 days long, so a “blue moon” happens every two and a half years on average.&nbsp;” data-reactid=”34″>Full moons are separated by 29 days, NASA says, and most months are 30 or 31 days long, so a “blue moon” happens every two and a half years on average. 

Full moons occur when the moon appears as a full circle in the sky, when the whole side of the moon facing the Earth is lit up by the sun.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Read more: Five moon myths (and how to disprove them yourself)&nbsp;” data-reactid=”36″>Read more: Five moon myths (and how to disprove them yourself) 

The moon will be full at 2.49pm on October 31, according to Royal Museums Greenwich. 

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="A blog post at Royal Museums Greenwich explains, “It may at first seem odd to think of a full Moon occurring during daylight hours.” data-reactid=”38″>A blog post at Royal Museums Greenwich explains, “It may at first seem odd to think of a full Moon occurring during daylight hours.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="“The reason this happens is that the time refers to the exact moment when the Sun and Moon are aligned on opposite sides of the Earth.

“This moment is known as the ‘syzygy’ of the Sun-Earth-Moon system, and can happen at any time day or night.”” data-reactid=”39″>“The reason this happens is that the time refers to the exact moment when the Sun and Moon are aligned on opposite sides of the Earth.

“This moment is known as the ‘syzygy’ of the Sun-Earth-Moon system, and can happen at any time day or night.”

NASA expert Gordon Johnston explains that American names for Full Moons are derived from Native American folklore.

Johnston writes, “The Maine Farmer’s Almanac first published Native American names for the full Moons in the 1930s. 

This image was taken in Tuam county galway. Ireland.This image was taken in Tuam county galway. Ireland.

View photos

Blue moons, despite the name, are not actually blue. Stock, Galway, Ireland (Getty)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="“Over time these names have become widely known and used.

“The Hunter’s Moon is the full Moon after the Harvest Moon. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, with the leaves falling and the deer fattened, it is time to hunt.&nbsp;” data-reactid=”62″>“Over time these names have become widely known and used.

“The Hunter’s Moon is the full Moon after the Harvest Moon. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, with the leaves falling and the deer fattened, it is time to hunt. 

“Since the harvesters have reaped the fields, hunters can easily see the animals that have come out to glean (and the foxes that have come out to prey on them). 

“The earliest use of the term “Hunter’s Moon” cited in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1710.”

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Read more: What is a supermoon?&nbsp;” data-reactid=”65″>Read more: What is a supermoon? 

Strictly speaking, the definition of a “blue moon” as the second full moon in a given month is wrong – but it is now widely used, says Royal Museums Greenwich. 

Royal Museums Greenwich writes, ‘Traditionally the definition of a blue moon is the third full Moon in an astronomical season containing four full moons. The astronomical seasons begin and end at the equinoxes and solstices (e.g. the winter season begins at the winter solstice and ends at the spring equinox, the spring season begins at the spring equinox and ends at the summer solstice and so on).”

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="“Another definition of the blue moon, perhaps the more commonly used due to its simplicity, is actually a mistake, made in the 1940s and perpetuated by radio shows and the Trivial Pursuit board game through the 1980s.

“This definition describes the blue moon as the second full Moon in any calendar month with two full moons.”” data-reactid=”68″>“Another definition of the blue moon, perhaps the more commonly used due to its simplicity, is actually a mistake, made in the 1940s and perpetuated by radio shows and the Trivial Pursuit board game through the 1980s.

“This definition describes the blue moon as the second full Moon in any calendar month with two full moons.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Science

'Massive' coral reef taller than the Empire State Building discovered in Australia – CTV News

Published

 on


A “massive” new reef measuring 500 metres has been discovered in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, making it taller than some of the world’s highest skyscrapers.

Scientists found the detached reef, which is the first to be discovered in more than 120 years, in waters off North Queensland while on an expedition aboard research vessel Falkor, ocean research organization Schmidt Ocean Institute announced Monday.

The reef was first discovered on October 20, as scientists completed an underwater mapping of the seafloor of the northern Great Barrier Reef.

At 500 metres high, it is taller than the Empire State Building (381 metres to the top floor), the Sydney Tower (305 metres) and the Petronas Twin Towers (451.9 metres.)

Using an underwater robot named SuBastian, the team explored the reef on Sunday, and live streamed footage of the exploration.

Experts say that the base of the “blade-like” reef measures 1.5 kilometres wide, rising 500 metres to its shallowest depth of 40 metres below the ocean surface.

There are seven other tall detached reefs in the area, including the reef at Raine Island — a significant green turtle nesting site.

Robin Beaman, who led the expedition, said he was “surprised” by the discovery.

“To not only 3D map the reef in detail, but also visually see this discovery with SuBastian is incredible,” he said in a statement.

“This unexpected discovery affirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our ocean,” Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute, said in a statement.

“The state of our knowledge about what’s in the ocean has long been so limited. Thanks to new technologies that work as our eyes, ears and hands in the deep ocean, we have the capacity to explore like never before. New oceanscapes are opening to us, revealing the ecosystems and diverse life forms that share the planet with us.”

The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef, covers more than 214,000 square kilometres and is home to more than 1,500 species of fish, 411 species of hard corals and dozens of other species.

But the reef is facing a crisis — recent studies have shown that it has lost 50% of its coral populations in the last three decades, with climate change a key driver of reef disturbance.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Science

Surrey vet offers tips as Canada reports first COVID-19 case in dog in Ontario – News 1130

Published

 on


SURREY (NEWS 1130) – As Canada’s first case of COVID-19 among dogs is reported in Ontario, a Surrey-based vet is providing some advice to pet owners who may have concerns.

Dr. Sajjid Ijaz with Lifetime Veterinary Clinic says research on COVID-19 in pets is still evolving, but at this point, there’s little evidence to suggest dogs can transmit the virus to humans.

He notes many owners have flagged their COVID-19 concerns with him and his staff over the past few months.

“Obviously, at this point because we do not have any data to give any concrete answers to them, so, we have just been telling them to be careful about going out of their own bubble, as far as their own personal self, as well as the pets themselves. So what we’ve been telling them is to try and limit the pet access to dog parks and all that stuff, and be careful about it,” he explains.

Ontario dog tests positive for COVID-19

A dog in Ontario’s Niagara area has been identified as the first canine to test positive for COVID-19 in Canada. Experts have said this isn’t cause for panic.

The dog apparently belongs to a household where four people tested positive for COVID-19.

Experts told the Toronto Star the dog “had no symptoms and a low viral load, suggesting that dogs remain at relatively low risk of becoming gravely ill or passing on COVID to others.”

Ijaz says while they’re not pushing that message too hard, he and his staff want pet owners to continue to be smart.

Pets and your social bubble

Because of the uncertainty around how the coronavirus is transmitted among pets, Ijaz says it’s wise to apply the same advice to pets when it comes to humans and their social bubbles.

“So, yes, I’ve been telling my clients to limit access, not just totally isolate them, but just to be smart about it,” he explains.

Ijaz understands that pets are often a big part of any family, which is why he believes it’s best to be safe rather than sorry.

“As much as we can limit the bubble, that will help,” he says, adding your social bubble shouldn’t exclude these animals.

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, there’s been no report of pets spreading COVID-19 to people. There have been reports of possible transmission from mink at a farm in the Netherlands to humans, however, the federal government says this is still being studied.

-With files from 680 NEWS

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending