Desert Research Institute scientists study ice to learn about wildfire
September 5, 2017
With the recent occurrence of wildfires on the rise, researchers at the Desert Research Institute in Reno may have uncovered important data in understanding how human-caused climate change compares with what the Earth was like thousands of years ago.
In a study published by the Journal of Geophysical Research last month, scientists identified a link between climate conditions and the concentration of wildfire black carbon emissions found in Antarctic ice cores.
"This is the longest ice core black carbon record published to date, and it tells us a fascinating story about wildfire," said DRI Assistant Research Professor Monica Arienzo in a statement.
In the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA, scientists measured b Theylack carbon concentrations in two Antarctic ice cores to understand what was in the atmosphere at the time the snow fell. They compared the findings with other records such as lake and marine sediment to develop a record of air quality dating as far back as 14,000 years ago.
"Our analysis gives us a sense of what climate-fire relationships were like before significant human-caused changes to the climate," said the study's coauthor, Joe McConnell, in a statement. "Knowing what climate-fire relationships were like in the past will help scientists make more accurate climate models because they can account for BC (black carbon) contributions from wildfires in addition to those from human sources."
Black carbon, which is present in soot, is a component of particulate matter formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels and biomass, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's website.
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The black carbon found in Antarctic ice cores from thousands of years ago, was created by wildfires burning biomass, or plant matter. According to the EPA, humans have since become the leading cause of black carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
"Given that BC (black carbon) emissions from human sources are predicted to increase, our findings are an important factor for climate predictions involving BC (black carbon) impacts," Arienzo said.