Research Press Release

Ancient warming caused increased wildfire risk

Nature Geoscience

May 24, 2010

Warming climate 200 million years ago caused increased wildfire activity in East Greenland, according to a paper published online this week in Nature Geoscience. This increased fire risk was linked not only to rising temperature, but also to a climate-driven shift to more flammable vegetation in the Jurassic forests.

Claire Belcher and colleagues studied charcoal and the remains of plants preserved in fossil-rich deposits in East Greenland. They found evidence for warming climate at the boundary between the Triassic and Jurassic periods, along with charcoal evidence of increased wildfire activity. They also noticed a change in the vegetation, with broad-leaved plants prevalent in the Triassic and narrow-leaved and needled plants dominating the Jurassic. Laboratory experiments confirmed that the Jurassic-type leaves were more prone to igniting and spreading fire.

The team concludes that, at least in East Greenland, the vegetation shift, along with warm temperatures and more frequent storms, led to increased fire risk early in the Jurassic period.

DOI:10.1038/ngeo871 | Original article

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