Reconstructions of Fire Activity in North America and Europe over the Past 250 Years: a comparison of the Global Charcoal Database with Historical Records

Authors: Jennifer Marlon*, Yale University, Brian Magi, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, Florent Mouillot, IRD UR060/DREAM, CEFE-CNRS, Montpellier, France, Anne-Laure Daniau, Environnements et Paléoenvironnements Océaniques et Continentaux, UMR EPOC 5805 CNRS, University of Bordeaux, Pessac, France, Alex Schaefer, University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Topics: Global Change, Paleoenvironmental Change, Land Use and Land Cover Change
Keywords: wildfire, land-use change, paleofire, paleoecology, climate change
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Riverview II, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 41st Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Fire is intertwined with vegetation changes, climate variability and human activities in terms of both its causes and consequences; a robust understanding of fire thus requires a multidisciplinary approach. This study compares historical fire reconstructions, paleofire records, simulated land-use changes, and climate variability over the past 250 years in North America and Europe. The objective is to understand how well paleofire records compare with independent historical fire history reconstructions, as well as what factors best explain the trends in fire during the past 250 years, a critical period for contextualizing the present-day impact of human activities on climate and the environment. Paleofire data are from the Global Charcoal Database (GCD) and historical fire reconstructions are from diverse sources, including government records and dendrochronological studies. Comparisons of the trends in fire from the GCD and the historical reconstruction show broad agreement, with some regional variations as expected. Western USA and North America show the strongest agreement, with departures in the GCD and historical reconstruction fire trends that may reflect limits in the data itself. Eastern North America shows agreement with an increase in fire from 1750 to 1900, and a strong decreasing trend thereafter. Patterns of burning in both fire history datasets often correlate positively with rates of land-use changes. Through the careful consideration of uncertainties in the data, these results can be used to constrain Earth System Model simulations of both past fires, which explicitly incorporate historical fire emissions, and the pathways of future fire on a warmer planet.

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