Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Charcoal Evidence Tracks Climate Changes in Younger Dryas

A new study reports that charcoal particles left by wildfires in sediments of 35 North American lake beds don't readily support the theory that comets exploding over the continent 12,900 years ago sparked a cooling period known as the Younger Dryas.

The study -- appearing online this week (Jan. 26-31) ahead of regular publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences -- however, did find clear links between abrupt climate changes and fire activity during the transition between the last Ice Age and the warm interglacial period that began 11,700 years ago.

These links are also consistent with the impacts of climate-change conditions on wildfires during recent decades in North America, the researchers noted.

Charcoal particles, along with tree pollen, provide snapshots of types of vegetation and frequencies of wildfire activity in a given area, said study co-author Patrick J. Bartlein, a professor of geography at the University of Oregon. His doctoral student Jennifer R. Marlon led the collaborative study of 23 co-authors (including seven current or former UO students) at institutions in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

"The charcoal data don't support the idea of widespread fires at the beginning of the Younger Dryas interval," Bartlein said. "The results don't reject the comet hypothesis, but do suggest that one element of it -- widespread fires -- didn't occur. Instead, the data show that biomass burning tracked general climate changes closely. Biomass burning increased as conditions warmed during deglaciation until the beginning of the Younger Dryas cold interval at 12,900 years ago, leveled off during the cool interval, and then increased again as warming resumed after the end of the cold interval, about 11,700 years ago."

The fires that left the charcoal records reflect the impact of climate changes independent of potential contributions of early Paleoindians who may have been living on the continent. Proponents of the comet theory suggest Clovis culture may have been dramatically disrupted across the continent.

Marlon began the National Science Foundation-sponsored study of charcoal-pollen records soon after the comet theory was proposed in PNAS by an international team of 26 researchers led by Richard B. Firestone. A co-author of that study, UO archaeologist Douglas Kennett, in the Jan. 2 issue of Science, documented the existence of possible comet-triggered nanodiamond-rich soil at six North American sites dating to 12,900 years ago in apparent support of the hypothesis. The formation of nanodiamonds requires intense pressure and heat, much higher than those of biomass wildfires but possible in comet explosions.

"We had the data to look for widespread fires if they had occurred," Marlon said, "but what we saw instead was a general increase in biomass burning whenever the climate warmed."

The lakes containing the charcoal are in Alaska (3 sites), British Columbia (7), U.S. Pacific Northwest (6), the Sierra Nevada (3), northern U.S. Rocky Mountains (6), Southwest (4), Midwest (2), Northeast (3 sites in Quebec), and Southeast (1). Thirty of the samples came from the Global Charcoal Database; another five were drawn from more recent research by co-authors currently studying sediments from the Younger Dryas.

The new study's conclusion that climate is a major control of wildfires matched that of a study published last year in Nature Geosciences by the same researchers on global biomass burning over the last 2,000 years.

"Together," Bartlein said, "these studies suggest that episodes of global warming are accompanied by increases in wildfires."

Co-authors of the study were Marlon, Bartlein and Megan K. Walsh, all currently of the UO; Walsh is a postdoctoral researcher in Kennett's lab. Others were S.P. Harrison of the University of Bristol (UK); K.J. Brown of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland and of the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, B.C.; M.E. Edwards of the University of Southampton (UK) and University of Alaska; P.E. Higuera, C. Briles and C. Whitlock of Montana State University; M.J. Power and A. Brunelle of the University of Utah; R.S. Anderson and M. Daniels of Northern Arizona University; C. Carcaillet of the French National Centre for Scientific Research and University of Montpellier (France); Feng-Sheng Hu of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; M. Lavoie of Laval University in Quebec City; C. Long of the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh; T. Minckley of the University of Wyoming; P.J.H. Richard of the University of Montreal; A.C. Scott of the University of London; D.S. Shafer of the Nevada System of Higher Education's Desert Research Institute; W. Tinner of the University of Bern, Switzerland; and C.E. Umbanhowar Jr. of St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

About the University of Oregon
The University of Oregon is a world-class teaching and research institution and Oregon's flagship public university. The UO is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), an organization made up of the 62 leading public and private research institutions in the United States and Canada. The University of Oregon is one of only two AAU members in the Pacific Northwest.

Sources: Jennifer Marlon, doctoral student, geography, 203-507-2462 (currently in New Haven, Conn.),; Patrick Bartlein, professor of geography, 541-346-4967,

Links: Bartlein faculty page:; UO geography department:

Jim Barlow | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union

nachricht UM researchers study vast carbon residue of ocean life
19.10.2016 | University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>