Thursday, December 14, 2006

Underground Fires Surface

This kind of puts global warming in perspective:

Uncontrolled fires burning in underground and surface coal deposits in numerous countries, including China, India, and Indonesia, are emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere. These pollutants may pose other grave environmental hazards. In China alone, about 120 million tons of coal are consumed in uncontrolled fires each year, says Andries Rosema, director of the Environmental Analysis and Remote Sensing Company in Delft, The Netherlands. Rosema extrapolated this estimate from temperature measurements--collected by satellites and low-flying airplanes--which indicate that about 300,000 metric tons of coal spread over thousands of kilometers burn each year in just one province in northern China, Ningxia. Says Rosema, "These coal fires that are burning around the world are really an environmental catastrophe . . . and hardly anybody has taken an interest in studying it."

One of the most troubling results of these fires, he says, is the carbon dioxide (CO2) they generate, including about 360 million metric tons of CO2 from coal fires in China alone. "The CO2 production of all of these fires in China is more than the total CO2 production in The Netherlands," Rosema says. This amounts to 2-3% of the annual worldwide production of CO2 from fossil fuels, or as much as emitted from all of the cars and light trucks in the United States. "Coal fires release a variety of potentially harmful gases [and] combustion by-products, including sulfur and particulates," says Glenn Stracher, associate professor of geology at East Georgia College in Swainsboro, Georgia. "The catastrophe that we're faced with is the fact that these fires are emitting noxious gases." In fire-plagued regions such as in Centralia, Pennsylvania, he says, the ground is littered with sulfur and other pollutants that have killed off virtually all visible plant and animal life. Read More.

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