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Posts Tagged ‘University of Alaska in Fairbanks’

3 million acres of spruce killed in Alaska in 15 years

Posted by feww on August 20, 2008

“Beetles take no prisoners, It’s a Mafia-style execution!”

~ Ed Berg, ecologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Alaska has experienced an average warming of 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 °F) and about 4.5 °C (8°F) in the inner regions in winter months since the 1960s, the largest regional warming of anywhere in the U.S., according to records.

The warmer temperature means Alaska’s peat bogs, which are nearly 14,000 years old, are drying up. Ed Berg, an ecologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has discovered that shrubs and other plants have been rooting in areas of peat big normally too soggy for woody plants to grow during the last three decades.


Black Spruce taiga, Copper River, Alaska. (Credit: NOAA)

“We’ve got mounds of evidence that an extremely powerful and unprecedented climate-driven change is underway,” said a forest ecologist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. “It’s not that this might happen, these changes are underway and there are more changes coming.”

In Alaska, 35 percent forest, global warming is causing irreversible changes including droughts, forest fires, and infestations of tree-killing insects like spruce beetles and spruce budworm moths. In the last 15 years, the spruce beetles, which thrive in warmer climates, have destroyed a total of about 3 million acres (1.21 million hectares) of spruce forest in south-central Alaska.

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Adult female spruce bark beetle

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Western Spruce Budworm caterpillar, sixth (final) instar (stage of development). Spruce budworms and relatives are serious pests of conifers. (Credit: David G. Fellini and Jerald E. Dewey, Forest Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.


The Alaskan landscape is covered with dead spruce trees after a major outbreak of spruce bark bettles in the arctic region in this file image. REUTERS/handout


The Spruce Beetle in Alaska Forests. (Credit:The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service)

As the areas of beetle-infested forest grow, more land is clear-cut and land speculation frenzy grows.

Wetlands are a natural defense mechanism retarding forest fires. The warmer weather and drier forest therefore could lead to more forest fires.

Drying or burning peat bogs, which comprise 50-60 percent carbon, would release additional carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere.

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