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A grim vision of global warming

Tropical forests may dry out and become vulnerable to devastating wildfires as global warming accelerates over the coming decades, a senior scientist has warned.

Soaring greenhouse gas emissions, driven by a surge in coal use in countries such as China and India, are threatening temperature rises that will turn damp and humid forests into parched tinderboxes, said Dr. Chris Field, co-chair of the UN's Noble prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).


Higher temperatures could see wildfires raging through the tropics and a large-scale melting of the Arctic tundra, releasing billons of tones of carbon into the atmosphere that will accelerate warming even further, he said.

Field said that the IPCC's last report on climate change in 2007 had substantially underestimated the severity of global warming over the rest of the century.

The report concluded that the earth's temperature is likely to rise between 1.1C and 6.4C by 2100, depending on future global carbon emissions.

Tipping point

Field said that if the tropics became dry enough for fires to break out, tropical forests would pass a "tipping point" from absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to releasing it. "Tropical forests are essentially not flammable. You couldn't get a fire to burn there if you tired. But if they dry out just a little, the result can be very large and destructive wildfires.

It is increasing clear that as you produce a warmer world, lots of forested areas that had been acting as carbon sinks could be converted to carbon sources," he said. The result could lead to runway warming.-Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009.

SOURCE: The Hindu Newspaper Dated: Thursday, February 19, 2009.
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