Counting the environmental cost of wildfires
A researcher at Swansea University has been appointed Editor-in-Chief for the International Journal of Wildland Fire – the only journal worldwide dedicated to wildland fire science.
Dr Stefan Doerr, a Senior Lecturer in Swansea University’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability (IES) in the School of the Environment and Society, is an expert in wildfire research, particularly the impact that wildfires have on the environment, and his appointment represents international recognition of his expertise.
Globally, more than 100 million hectares are burnt by wildfires each year, producing the equivalent of 40% of the annual global carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels.
“This is a key issue in the climate change debate,” said Dr Doerr.
“The environmental impact of wildland fires is often underestimated by the general public. Certainly, we see the devastated landscape and can see the extent of the physical damage, but we don’t necessarily appreciate the hidden impact.
“There are many questions about the contribution wildfires make to climate change, and this is something that the University’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability and Climate and Land-Surface Systems Interaction Centre (CLASSIC) are investigating.”
Peat and heathland fires are particularly problematic in terms of the environmental cost, as peat stores significant amounts of carbon and recovers very slowly. Grassland fires cause less environmental damage but can be costly to control.
Whilst it is the large wildfires in Greece, Portugal and California that have made the headlines in recent years, Wales also has a significant problem.
“Almost all forest and grassland fires in Wales are caused by arson, and South Wales has the second highest recorded arson rate of all UK regions,” explained Dr Doerr.
“Although the fires are rarely on a large scale, the number of incidents each year is a major problem for emergency services.
“Fires caused by arson cost £56 million last year in Wales alone, with forest and grassland fires costing £15 million.”
He added: “We can not afford to dismiss the impact of wildfires on the environment particularly as changes to the climate and the way we use land is likely to lead to more frequent, widespread and damaging fires.”
“The International Journal of Wildland Fire will continue to drive research in this respect, and I’m delighted to have been appointed as Editor-in-Chief.”
For more information about Swansea University’s School of the Environment and Society, visit http://www.swansea.ac.uk/environment_society/.
And for more information about the International Journal of Wildland Fire, visit http://www.publish.csiro.au/nid/114.htm.