For Release: Feb. 4, 1997
Catherine E. Watson
Release No. 97-008
Two years ago, more than 250 scientists from 21 countries came together in Williamsburg, Va. to discuss the global impacts of biomass burning. This month, the results of that meeting will appear in a two-volume series entitled Biomass Burning and Global Change, published by MIT Press.
Biomass burning, the burning of live and dead vegetation, is one of the most significant sources of carbon dioxide and particles in our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas that may lead to the warming of our planet, while the large quantities of particles in fire plumes can impact our climate, cause low visibility conditions, and health problems. The release of gases from fires also contributes to the production of ground level ozone, which is both a pollutant and a greenhouse gas.
Though some of the biomass burning is started by lightning, the overwhelming majority of burning is deliberately set to clear land. This is particularly prevalent in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia where as much as 30 percent of the agricultural land is burned each year.
The two volumes, edited by Dr. Joel S. Levine, a senior research scientist at NASA Langley Research Center, discuss biomass burning studies conducted in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. The volumes also contain discussions of various techniques for measuring the effects and extent of biomass burning, such as the use of satellites and other space-based measurements. Researchers at NASA Langley, many of whom were pioneers in the study of biomass burning, wrote 17 of the 84 chapters, or 20 percent of the book.
The 1995 conference in Williamsburg was sponsored by the American Geophysical Union, NASA Langley Research Center, the NASA Mission to Planet Earth Program Office, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Forest Service.
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