This is the future of peat wetlands all over the world, wherever humans are drawing down the water table. Thousands of illegal wells were drilled around the Tablas de Daimiel wetland in Spain, a UNESCO biosphere site, to irrigate local fields. The water table fell 12 meters (40 ft), the underground peat dried out, and now the peat is spontaneously igniting. Underground fires are consuming what’s left of Tablas de Daimiel, releasing tons of long-sequestered carbon to the atmosphere.

 

2000

Tablas de Daimiel

 

2005

Las Tablas de Daimiel in critical state because of drought and overuse of aquifers. Just 30ha remain flooded of 1750 total. Las Tablas de Daimiel, este año. (Foto: Pedro Armestre / AFP)

 

2009

Smoke rising from an underground fire in Las Tablas de Daimiel National Park in Ciudad Real, Spain. Photograph: Mariano Cieza / EPA

 

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