Equivalent of 16 football pitches lost to forest fires every minute


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Forest fires are burning twice as much global tree cover as 20 years ago according to new data published on Wednesday (17 August) which shows the equivalent of 16 football pitches are now lost every minute.

Researchers from the University of Maryland used satellite imagery to map areas of tree cover lost, including that burned by what are known as stand-replacing forest fires – fires that kill all or most of the forest’s canopy and which cause long-term changes to forest structure and soil chemistry.

The research revealed in great detail how wildfires have progressed over the past two decades with the blazes claiming an estimated three more million hectares each year – an area approximately the size of Belgium – compared with 2001.

The study also showed that the majority of tree cover loss is occurring in the boreal forests that blanket much of Russia, Canada and Alaska.

Around 70% of fire-related tree cover loss over the last two decades occurred in boreal regions, likely because high-latitude regions are warming at a faster rate than the rest of the planet.

Last year, Russia lost 5.4 million hectares of tree cover due to fires, the highest on record at an increase of 31% over 2020.

The study said: “This record-breaking loss was due in part to prolonged heatwaves that would have been practically impossible without human-induced climate change.”

“Forest fires are getting worse worldwide,” James McCarthy, research analyst at Global Forest Watch, told AFP.

“In these boreal regions carbon has accumulated in the soil over hundreds of years and has been protected by a moist layer on top.”

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