The image of a controlled burn in the interior of Australia today, featured on the cover of the January 2005 issue of Geology, illustrates how Australia might have looked 50,000 years ago. Photo courtesy Gifford Miller, University of Colorado at Boulder
Landscape burning by ancient hunters and gatherers may have triggered the failure of the annual Australian Monsoon some 12,000 years ago, resulting in the desertification of the country’s interior that is evident today, according to a new study.
University of Colorado at Boulder Professor Gifford Miller said the study builds on his research group’s previous findings that dozens of giant animal species went extinct in Australia roughly 50,000 years ago due to ecosystem changes caused by human burning. The new study indicates such burning may have altered the flora enough to decrease the exchange of water vapor between the biosphere and atmosphere, causing the failure of the Australian Monsoon over the interior.
"The question is whether localized burning 50,000 years ago could have had a continental-scale effect," said Miller, a fellow at CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. "The implications are that the burning practices of early humans may have changed the climate of the Australian continent by weakening the penetration of monsoon moisture into the interior."
Gifford Miller | EurekAlert!
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