Articles | Volume 13, issue 11
Biogeosciences, 13, 3225–3244, 2016
Biogeosciences, 13, 3225–3244, 2016

Research article 03 Jun 2016

Research article | 03 Jun 2016

Reconstructions of biomass burning from sediment-charcoal records to improve data–model comparisons

Jennifer R. Marlon1, Ryan Kelly2, Anne-Laure Daniau3, Boris Vannière4, Mitchell J. Power5, Patrick Bartlein6, Philip Higuera7, Olivier Blarquez8, Simon Brewer5, Tim Brücher9, Angelica Feurdean10,11, Graciela Gil Romera12, Virginia Iglesias4, S. Yoshi Maezumi13, Brian Magi14, Colin J. Courtney Mustaphi15, and Tonishtan Zhihai16 Jennifer R. Marlon et al.
  • 1School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, USA
  • 2Neptune and Company, Inc., Lakewood, CO, USA
  • 3Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Environnements et Paléoenvironnements Océaniques et Continentaux (EPOC), Unité Mixte de Recherche (UMR) 5805, Université de Bordeaux, 33615 Pessac cedex, France
  • 4Chrono-environnement UMR6249 and MSHE USR3124, CNRS, Univ. Bourgogne Franche-Comté, 25000 Besançon, France
  • 5Department of Geography, Natural History Museum of Utah, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA
  • 6Department of Geography, University of Oregon, Eugene, USA
  • 7College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula, USA
  • 8Département de Géographie, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Québec
  • 9GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Düsternbrooker Weg 20, Kiel, Germany
  • 10Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F), Frankfurt am Main, Germany
  • 11Department of Geology, Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
  • 12IPE-CSIC, Zaragoza, Spain
  • 13Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK
  • 14Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, USA
  • 15Environment Department, University of York, York, UK
  • 16State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Key Laboratory of Aerosol Chemistry and Physics, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi'an, Shaanxi 710075, PR China

Abstract. The location, timing, spatial extent, and frequency of wildfires are changing rapidly in many parts of the world, producing substantial impacts on ecosystems, people, and potentially climate. Paleofire records based on charcoal accumulation in sediments enable modern changes in biomass burning to be considered in their long-term context. Paleofire records also provide insights into the causes and impacts of past wildfires and emissions when analyzed in conjunction with other paleoenvironmental data and with fire models. Here we present new 1000-year and 22 000-year trends and gridded biomass burning reconstructions based on the Global Charcoal Database version 3 (GCDv3), which includes 736 charcoal records (57 more than in version 2). The new gridded reconstructions reveal the spatial patterns underlying the temporal trends in the data, allowing insights into likely controls on biomass burning at regional to global scales. In the most recent few decades, biomass burning has sharply increased in both hemispheres but especially in the north, where charcoal fluxes are now higher than at any other time during the past 22 000 years. We also discuss methodological issues relevant to data–model comparisons and identify areas for future research. Spatially gridded versions of the global data set from GCDv3 are provided to facilitate comparison with and validation of global fire simulations.

Short summary
We reconstruct spatiotemporal variations in biomass burning since the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) using the Global Charcoal Database version 3 (including 736 records) and a method to grid the data. LGM to late Holocene burning broadly tracks global and regional climate changes over that interval. Human activities increase fire in the 1800s and then reduce it for most of the 20th century. Burning is now rapidly increasing, particularly in western North America and southeastern Australia.
Final-revised paper