Comet impact theory disproved

Jan 26, 2009

New data, published today, disproves the recent theory that a large comet exploded over North America 12,900 years ago, causing a shock wave that travelled across North America at hundreds of kilometres per hour and triggering continent-wide wildfires.

Dr Sandy Harrison from the University of Bristol and colleagues tested the theory by examining charcoal and pollen records to assess how fire regimes in North America changed between 15 and 10,000 years ago, a time of large and rapid climate changes.

Their results provide no evidence for continental-scale fires, but support the fact that the increase in large-scale wildfires in all regions of the world during the past decade is related to an increase in global warming.

Fire is the most ubiquitous form of landscape disturbance and has important effects on climate through the global carbon cycle and changing atmospheric chemistry. This has triggered an interest in knowing how fire has changed in the past, and particularly how fire regimes respond to periods of major warming.

The end of the Younger Dryas, about 11,700 years ago, was an interval when the temperature of Greenland warmed by over 5°C in less than a few decades. The team used 35 records of charcoal accumulation in lake sediments from sites across North America to see whether fire regimes across the continent showed any response to such rapid warming.

They found clear changes in biomass burning and fire frequency whenever climate changed abruptly, and most particularly when temperatures increased at the end of the Younger Dryas cold phase. The results are published today [26 January] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Understanding whether rapid changes in climate have caused wild fires in the past will help understand whether current changes in global temperatures will cause more frequent fires at the present time. Such fires have a major impact on the economy and health of the population, as well as feeding into the increase in global warming.

Reference: The paper: Wildfire responses to abrupt climate change in North America, by J. R. Marlon, P. J. Bartlein, M. K. Walsh, S. P. Harrison, et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science early edition, doi_10.1073_pnas.0808212106. www.pnas.org/

Source: University of Bristol

Explore further: Innovative use of pressurant extends MESSENGER's mission, enables collection of new data

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

CPR for South Coast plants

Nov 24, 2014

Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) Flora Conservation Officer Sarah Barrett and FloraTechnical Officer Dylan Lehmann set up a display at this year's Albany Wildflower Exhibition to explain some of the ...

Recommended for you

The top 101 astronomical events to watch for in 2015

Dec 24, 2014

Now in its seventh year of compilation and the second year running on Universe Today, we're proud to feature our list of astronomical happenings for the coming year. Print it, bookmark it, hang it on your ...

NASA image: Frosty slopes on Mars

Dec 24, 2014

This image of an area on the surface of Mars, approximately 1.5 by 3 kilometers in size, shows frosted gullies on a south-facing slope within a crater.

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

DGBEACH
5 / 5 (4) Jan 27, 2009
How can they be sure that the fires weren't caused BY a comet, which subsequently warmed the earth?
RayCherry
5 / 5 (3) Jan 27, 2009
Doesn't this ignore the presence of iridium and/or nano-diamonds in the Younger Dryas layer?
Arkaleus
4.5 / 5 (2) Jan 27, 2009
Has the the causality between an increase in carbon dioxide and climate warming been fully established and explained? Where is the evidence for this? Most studies I have read show a lag time between tempurature rise and carbon dioxide levels, with tempurature rise precceding carbon dioxide increases by centuries or more. How can small tempurature changes be extrapolated into forest fires?
Velanarris
not rated yet Jan 27, 2009
Doesn't this ignore the presence of iridium and/or nano-diamonds in the Younger Dryas layer?

Well it doesn't address them directly. Also, this paper would lead one to believe our climate system is far more fragile than past precedence and observations show.
BenD
not rated yet Jan 29, 2009
I cannot follow how such sweeping conclusions can be drawn from charcoal studies. Carbon dating isn't accurate enough to confine something to within a decade on that time scale, and there is no evidence for a directional causality. I can understand how climate change could cause mass fires, mass fires could cause climate change, or how a third event could cause both.

In short, while I need to see the original paper, someone's conclusion seriously overreached their evidence.
Jusdenny
not rated yet Feb 01, 2009
Well finding the location where the comet exploded might be the smoking gun that settles in once and for all. Check this out:
http://theholocen...ive.com/

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.