Wildfires in wetlands? It may sound counterintuitive, but swamps, bogs, and peat lands do catch fire — and a Michigan State University study says that as the climate warms and the wetlands lose some of their moisture, these fires may become more frequent.

What’s more, fires in peat-heavy wetlands can be even worse for the environment than those in drier areas. The reason: Peat lands act as natural mercury storage facilities, and when they burn, the mercury is released into the atmosphere. Says the study:

"'When we walk across the surface of a peat land, we are standing on many thousands of years of peat accumulation,’ Turetsky said. ‘This type of wetland is actually doing us a service. Peat lands have been storing mercury from the atmosphere since well before and during the Industrial Revolution, locking it in peat where it’s not causing any biological harm, away from the food web.'"

So instead of saying thank you to the wetlands for all their years of faithful service protecting us from mercury, we let them fall victim to global warming? Where, we ask, are our manners?

Story by Kiera Butler. This article originally appeared in Plenty in August 2006. This story was added to MNN.com in July 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2006.

Wetlands warming
Fires in peat-heavy wetlands can be even worse for the environment because the mercury naturally stored there is released into the atmosphere.