Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

Science, technology and technology news

Why are forest fires more and more destructive, where does the flame come from in the permafrost region, and is it necessary to extinguish the burning Siberian forests? World renowned scientist Johann Goldammer in an exclusive interview with DW.

Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

Extinguishing a forest fire in Kamchatka, 2020

Professor of the University of Freiburg, head of the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) Johann Georg Goldammer has been studying forest fires and their impact on various ecosystems for almost half a century. He devoted decades to studying fires in Russia – in Siberia, taiga and tundra.

In 1993, Johann Goldammer, as part of an international group of scientists, set up a large controlled fire on the Forest Island Bor site near Krasnoyarsk and thus began a unique ecological experiment that will last almost two hundred years – until 2192 – and will allow studying the effect of fire on the ecosystem of northern forests and atmosphere for generations. In 1999, Professor Goldammer was awarded the medal “For the Protection and Enhancement of Russia's Forest Resources” in Moscow.

Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

Professor Johann Goldammer

Why do large-scale fires occur more and more often in permafrost regions, does the annual extinguishing of burning Siberian forests make sense and is humanity ready for the challenges posed by global warming? The world-renowned scientist answered these and other questions in an exclusive interview with DW.

Arctic on fire

For pyrologist Johann Goldammer, today's anomalous situation on the planet – blazing tundra and areas of the so-called “green desert” in Siberia – is not a surprise. In 2013, under his leadership, with the participation of 50 fire researchers from around the world, an expert report on the consequences of global climate change was prepared and sent to the UN, which described this scenario. “Then world politicians did not hear us. But today, it seems, the situation is changing,” says Goldammer.

According to him, the consequences of global warming are especially noticeable in northern latitudes. In the recent past, large fires in the arctic and subarctic zones were rare. The flame prevented the spread of a special vegetation cover there, in particular layers of humus, or humus, which did not allow heat to penetrate deep into the soil.

“The inhabitants of northern Europe, that is, countries such as Norway, Sweden and Finland, have known about the heat-insulating property of humus for a long time,” says Goldammer. “They specially set fire to humus in order to break this layer of thermal insulation and to be able to use the soil for forestry and agriculture.” …

Today, due to the longer autumn-spring-summer season, the layers of humus that cover the soil in permafrost regions are drying up. Under such conditions, the likelihood of a natural fire, for example, from a lightning strike, increases dramatically, and the fire itself becomes much larger, the expert explains.

Melting permafrost and soil destruction

At the same time, due to the melting of permafrost, associated with a general increase in temperature on the planet, the soil is losing stability. Professor Goldammer and his colleagues observe this effect not only in Alaska and Canada, but also in Eurasia. As a result, man-made infrastructure is being destroyed: pipelines, industrial warehouses, oil tanks. It is precisely because of the subsidence of the soil that in 2020 there was a breakdown of the reservoir of the Norilsk Nickel company and a large-scale spill of oil products near Norilsk.

Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

Elimination of the consequences of an oil spill in the tundra near Norilsk, 2020

At the same time, forest fires are not a new phenomenon either for Russia as a whole or for Siberia. “Even in the Soviet Union, there were fires, the area of which reached 20 million hectares a year,” recalls Goldammer. “Fires serve to renew the forest. However, today we see changes in their structure that do not bode well.”

According to the observations of scientists, today geographically fires are moving on the planet further and further north. “Not only in the tundra, but also here in Germany, in Central Europe, in the future it will not be possible to preserve those forest ecosystems that have formed in a temperate climate,” the German expert warns. “These forests will be replaced by vegetation characteristic of the Mediterranean. and subtropics “.

Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

EMERCOM employees fighting a fire near Novgorod, 2014

The same trend is observed on the territory of continental Eurasia in general and in Russia in particular, where 1.3 billion hectares are covered with forest. For comparison, the total forest area in Germany is 10 million hectares. “In such conditions, one can expect that the entire vegetation and animal spectrum of forest zones, and with it the forest fires, will also shift to the north,” Goldammer said.

The “ticking carbon bomb” in Eurasia

Meanwhile, the destruction of individual ecosystems by flame is not the only problem associated with the onset of the “era of fire” on the planet, or “pyrocene,” as Professor Goldammer calls it. “After all, the forest is not only a source of wood and a habitat for many species of animals and plants, but also a repository of carbon and methane absorbed by the soil from the atmosphere. Due to humidity and special temperature conditions, these gases have been” conserved “in the plant biomass contained in the forest the soil, as well as the soil of other regions, for example, the tundra, “the professor notes.

Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

Melting permafrost, the bank of the Lena River in Yakutia

Today, due to the melting of permafrost, huge amounts of carbon accumulated in the soil can again be released into the atmosphere, which will seriously aggravate the greenhouse effect. “That is why we (scientists – Ed. ) Have been talking about a” ticking carbon bomb “in Eurasia for decades,” Goldammer continues.

According to him, this problem is especially acute for three countries: the United States, Canada and Russia, “possessing vast territories with huge zones of vegetation and, ultimately, a huge amount of” conserved “in the soil of methane and carbon.”

Do you need to put out forest fires?

Can we keep the fires on the planet in their usual, historical proportions? “In Canada, scientists and politicians have been looking for an answer to this question for years and have come to the conclusion that it is no longer possible to stop this development, to stop the fire destroying natural landscapes,” says Goldammer, head of the Center for Global Fire Monitoring. It is obvious to him that fires are already an important factor in environmental change.

No country in the world is able to cope with the consequences of global warming on its own, but all countries of the world continue to extinguish fires, spending colossal resources on this, the expert emphasizes, citing the example of Yakutia, on whose territory about 160 wildfires raged at the end of June 2021 …

“We need to decide: will we try to extinguish the forest at any cost or try to cultivate it in such a way that it can withstand the effects of climate change, such as an increase in temperature, a change in the nature of precipitation, which is already well visible in Central Europe, hurricanes and fires” Goldammer.

From his point of view, today the topic of fires should be given special, political attention: “Because running after the flames, acquiring more and more fire extinguishing means, does not mean finding a solution to the problem.” But working on this solution is a much more complicated process than finding an answer to the question of how to defeat the pandemic, the pyrologist believes.

“To fight the virus, in simple terms, we need 'only' an effective vaccine. And vaccines against climate change have not yet been invented,” says Goldammer. “On the other hand, the pandemic gives humanity a great reason to unite and think about the correctness of what we are doing. – both in the political and industrial spheres. “

See also:

Fires in California: you can lose everything in a few hours (09/16/2020)

Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

dw.com More Videos SHARE Tweet SHARE SHARE EMAIL What else to see

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    Black Friday for the EU due to Brexit and the coronavirus from China is already in Russia. DW News (31.01.2020)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    Russia is covered by a new wave of covid, but what is happening in India, Kazakhstan and the EU countries? DW News (06/23/2021)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    Why Gudkov actually left for Kiev after his arrest and is he ready for a political career in Ukraine (06/09/2021)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    Prolonged Coronavirus: A New Challenge for Society (06/22/2021)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    What the German media write about Biden's meeting with Putin (06/17/2021)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    New Information on the Causes of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 Disaster (03/14/2019)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    What German business thinks about new sanctions against Minsk (06/18/2021)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    Will compulsory vaccination in Russia help cope with the third wave of the pandemic? (22.06.2021)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    The brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi: what is Saudi Arabia hiding? (26.02.2020)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    Catastrophe threat: why is Russia covered by a new wave of pandemic? DW News (06/18/2021)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    Uyghur camps in China: how authorities fabricate accusations. DW News (06/08/2020)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    The separatists won the elections in Catalonia: what next? (22.12.2017)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    Putin versus Biden. Team

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    Landing a plane with Protasevich in Minsk: how Lukashenka crossed the line. DW News (24.05.2021)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    Sanctions against Iran: some were removed, others remained (14.07.2015)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

  • Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    Jurgen Klopp – Champions League winner and future coach of the German national team? (03.07.2019)

    Abnormal heat and forest fires: a professor from Germany on the coming era of fire

    dw.com

Click to Expand Repeat Video

Leave a Reply

4 + ten =