From: Alister Doyle, Reuters
Published August 12, 2010 06:19 AM

Russia's peatland fires seen burning for months

Some of Russia's smog-causing peatland fires are likely to burn for months, part of a global problem of drained marshes that emit climate-warming greenhouse gases, experts said on Wednesday.

Novel carbon markets could offer a long-term fix for peat bogs, from Indonesia to South Africa, if negotiators of a U.N. climate treaty can agree ways to pay to safeguard marshes that are often drained to make way for farms, roads or homes.

"Peat fires continue underground and...they will not be extinguished in Russia before winter rains and snow set in," said Hans Joosten, professor of peatland studies and paleoecology at the University of Greifswald in Germany.

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To put out fires "you must inundate the area completely," he said, adding that one peat fire in South Africa near the border with Botswana, for instance, had smoldered for 5 years. Peat is formed from partly decayed vegetation.

Environmental group Wetlands International estimated 80 to 90 percent of the smog in Moscow was from peatland fires near the capital, rather than forest fires linked to what weather officials call Russia's hottest summer in a millennium.

"In Russia, peat fires can sometimes last under snow cover through the winter," said Ilkka Vanha-Majamaa, a scientist at the Finnish Forestry Research Institute.

Water dumped from planes, part of Russia's response, is rarely enough to halt peat fires, said Alex Kaat, spokesman for Wetlands International. Moscow has pledged more action to extinguish the blazes.

"Russia promised the same after peat fires in 2002 and nothing was done," Kaat said, saying past efforts to use water from the Volga River to soak peatlands had been half-hearted.

Photo shows a firefighter working to extinguish a peat fire in a forest near the town of Shatura, some 130 km (81 miles) southeast of Moscow, July 27, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Denis Sinyakov

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE67A3H120100812

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