Science News
from research organizations

The fiery world before dinosaurs: New research reveals fires were more common 300 million years ago than today

Date:
October 26, 2015
Source:
University of Royal Holloway London
Summary:
Forest fires across the globe were more common between 300 and 250 million years ago than they are today, scientists have discovered. This is thought to be due to higher level of oxygen in the atmosphere at that time.
Share:
FULL STORY

At higher levels of p(O2), increased fire activity would have rendered vegetation with high moisture contents more susceptible to ignition and would have facilitated continued combustion.
Credit: © Lukas Gojda / Fotolia

Scientists from the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London together with colleagues from the USA, Russia and China, have discovered that forest fires across the globe were more common between 300 and 250 million years ago than they are today. This is thought to be due to higher level of oxygen in the atmosphere at that time.

The study which was published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science, found that peats that were to become coal contained high levels of charcoal that could only be explained by the high levels of fire activity.

The team used the data from charcoal in coal to propose that the development of fire systems through this interval was controlled predominantly by the elevated atmospheric oxygen concentration (p(O2)) that mass balance models predict prevailed. At higher levels of p(O2), increased fire activity would have rendered vegetation with high moisture contents more susceptible to ignition and would have facilitated continued combustion.

In the study they examine the environmental and ecological factors that would have impacted fire activity and conclude that of these factors p(O2) played the largest role in promoting fires in Late Paleozoic peat-forming environments and, by inference, ecosystems generally, when compared with their prevalence in the modern world.

Professor Andrew Scott, one of the lead authors, said: "High oxygen levels in the atmosphere at this time has been proposed for some time and may be why there were giant insects and arthropods at this time but our research indicates that there was a significant impact on the prevalence and scale of wildfires across the globe and this would have affected not only the ecology of the plants and animals but also their evolution."

Professor Scott and his colleagues and students at Royal Holloway have pioneered the study of fire in Earth's deep past. Professor Scott, added: "We have been able to show that wildfire was an important element in Earth System many hundreds of millions of years before the arrival of humans."


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Royal Holloway London. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ian J. Glasspool, Andrew C. Scott, David Waltham, Natalia Pronina, Longyi Shao. The impact of fire on the Late Paleozoic Earth system. Frontiers in Plant Science, 2015; 6 DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2015.00756

Cite This Page:

University of Royal Holloway London. "The fiery world before dinosaurs: New research reveals fires were more common 300 million years ago than today." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 October 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151026093211.htm>.
University of Royal Holloway London. (2015, October 26). The fiery world before dinosaurs: New research reveals fires were more common 300 million years ago than today. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151026093211.htm
University of Royal Holloway London. "The fiery world before dinosaurs: New research reveals fires were more common 300 million years ago than today." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151026093211.htm (accessed May 23, 2017).

RELATED STORIES