Fires and smoke in eastern Russia
Smoke from numerous fires (shown as red dots) obscure the Eastern coastline of the Russian Federation and the island of Sakhalin. In recent years, researchers have emphasized the importance of boreal (Northern) forests as a reservoir for carbon, which is related to the problem of global warming. The burning of forests, mostly in the tropics, as well the combustion of fossil fuels, mostly gasoline in automobiles, has led to increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It, as well as other gases, form a sort of insulation as sunlight can pass into but not out of the atmosphere, trapping heat and potentially warming the Earth â€“ like a greenhouse does. Scientists have pretty good estimates of how much carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere and how much is stored there, as well as decent estimates of how much carbon there is in the oceans, but the bookkeeping does not quite add up. The discrepancy is known as the “missing carbon” or “the missing sink”. The likely culprits are forests; trees soak up carbon dioxide as they grow, turning it into living tissue. When they die, some of the carbon ends up in the soil. Accurate measurements of how much carbon is stored in forests will reduce a great deal of our uncertainty about the carbon cycle and improve our understanding of global warming. Satellite pictures such as this one are used by scientists to measure the impacts of fire and other disturbances in this critical part of the world.