The fires in the Amazon have become a global crisis, one that has prompted responses from countries all over the world, including Canada. However, there is a whole other forest fire threatening Canada's boreal forest. If it continues, the forest could begin to release more carbon into the atmosphere, rather than storing it.
Normally, fires are just a naturally occurring event in the boreal forest. They help to clear away old and dead trees, which in turn allows younger trees to grow and more sunlight to reach the forest.
However, climate change has led to a significant drying of the forest floor, which is causing more frequent and severe forest fires. Rather than just burning up old trees, these fires are also burning younger trees that are helping to keep carbon stored in the soil. As these trees disappear and the fires burn into the ground, all of that stored carbon is released into the air.
Dr. Jill Johnstone, an adjunct biology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, told CBC News, "The boreal forest has historically acted as a place where carbon is stored over many centuries, sometimes millennia."
Increasingly frequent & severe forest 🔥 could burn generations-old carbon stored in boreal forest soils. Releasing… https://t.co/93DN5mwDFf— NASA Climate (@NASA Climate)1566517218.0
Other experts have previously confirmed that certain plants are far better at storing carbon in the ground for longer periods of time and that if they are removed, that carbon is released from the soil.
The real issue is that there is so much ancient carbon in the soil under the boreal forest, that younger trees might not be able to hold all of it back. That means the forest could become an actual carbon source, even if the fires are all extinguished.
Even though he is taking action on the fires in the Amazon, Justin Trudeau has already caught criticism from Canadians who felt that his attention should have been turned toward the fires going on in Canada.
Canada's boreal zone stretches from coast to coast and covers roughly 552 million hectares of land. If fires continue to burn at the rate they are going, then the younger trees which replace the old may not be able to stand up to the heat.