7 February 2012

Torres del Paine, the role of the forests

“Plant a tree, plant a tree” they say!... What about also protecting old trees?

The Chilean National Park Torres del Paine is an outstanding piece of nature, composed of mountains, glaciers, lakes, rivers and native forests. It is one of the most visited places in Chile.

A large fire started in the middle of Torres del Paine Park last December the 27th, causing major environmental damages. The park partially re-opened on the 4th of January and we were there two days later. At the gate of the park, a forest ranger told us : “This fire is a catastrophe. Most of the rangers working here are local people, the situation has severely affected the surrounding community.”

More than 170 km² were burnt down ; 36% of burnt area was native forest. The fire represents one of the biggest destructions of forest of these last decades in Chile. Even at the beginning of February, the fire was not yet completely under control. 

Forests dry up

Climate change increases vegetation fire risk since extended periods without rain brings droughts, such as El Niño in the Pacific Ocean. Additionally this fire risk rises due to land-use change, like deforestation. A declining trend in precipitation has been observed in southern Chile in the past decades. This, combined with the exceptional hot summer 2011-2012, created the conditions for a large and persistent fire in Torres del Paine. 

Forest fires occur from human or natural causes. Human causes include accidental fires or intentional fires such as : farmers establishing new plantations, small and controlled fires by forest keepers to prevent larger fires or even criminal fires. Torres del Paine fire started as an accident caused by a visitor of the park.

“There is no smoke without fire” 

Forest fires release big quantities of carbon dioxide which is one of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Carbon is stored in the trees as they grow. Many decades are necessary to store large quantities of carbon in forests ; however in just a few days of fire it can all be released. One hectare of tropical forest that is burnt down approximately releases 500 tons of carbon dioxide. 

Preserving the forest allows to retain great quantities of carbon dioxide : planting new trees is good, protecting old ones is even better!

Some figures about Forests and Climate Change 

Every year 130 000 km² of forest disappear. This is equivalent to the surface of Greece.

Forests on Earth contain as much carbon as the entire atmosphere.

There is more carbon in forests and soils than in all the oil reservoirs of the planet.

In the Amazon, the estimated human health cost of fires increased from 3.4 million US dollars in 1996 to 10.7 million US dollars in 1999 (Cardoso de Mendonça et al., 2004).

National Park Torres del Paine.


1 comment:

  1. Estimados Caro, Fred,

    Antes que nqdq brqvos por el profesionalismo y la diversidad de temas con la que estan construyendo esta pagina.

    Este articulo me llamo especialmente la atencion porque una catastrofe de esta tamanio no aparecio en ninguna primera pagina de algun periodico o noticiero de este lado del oceano.

    En efecto, que estamos haciendo para cuidar los bosques?

    Fam COLOMB