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Global Warming Drying Up Ancient Peat Bog

August 20, 2008

Scientists have found that the ground is drying out in a 13,700-year-old peat bog, just another sign, they say, of the Earth’s warming climate.

Ecologist Ed Berg says the peat bog is turning into forest.

“There has been a big change,” Berg said. Core samples taken from the bog show moss nearly 22 feet under the ground, with no sign of trees or shrubs growing here for centuries, Berg said.

The bog could be covered by black spruce trees during the next 50 years, he said.

Alaska is one state, where the blow of climate change could hit the hardest.

Records show Alaska has already experienced the largest regional warming of any U.S. state. It has averaged 5 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) since the 1960s and about 8 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 degrees Celsius) in the interior of the state during winter months.

“We’ve got mounds of evidence that an extremely powerful and unprecedented climate-driven change is underway,” said Glenn Juday, a forest ecologist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

“It’s not that this might happen, Juday said.

“These changes are underway and there are more changes coming.”

The state is made up of one-third forest, and the change will take the form of droughts, forest fires, and infestations of tree-killing insects like spruce beetles and spruce budworm moths.

Researchers say at the Arctic Circle, disappearing sea ice has major implications for polar bears, seals and dozens of species, as well people who depend on the land to sustain them.

However, on the scenic Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, warming temperatures are to blame for an outbreak of bark-infesting beetles.

Astonishingly, more than 3 million acres (1.21 million hectares) of spruce have been killed in south-central Alaska since 1992.

It’s the biggest recorded outbreak in North American history.

“Beetles take no prisoners,” Berg said. “It’s a Mafia-style execution.”

They believe today’s beetle-infested forest is tomorrow’s subdivision, and the beetle has set off a flurry of land speculation.

“The realtors loved it,” Berg said, describing how the new trend is to market clear-cut lands as “emerging view properties.”

The drying pattern in the bog, have scientists worried about a flurry of forest fires.

Seedling black spruce trees dot the outskirts of the bog, and burn more easily than white spruce.

They say the trees could become a “fuel bridge” that allow fires to burn across peat bogs.

Map Courtesy Matthew Trump (Wikipedia)

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