Unprecedented tundra fire likely linked to climate change
A thousand square kilometers of the Alaskan tundra burned in September 2007, a single fire that doubled the area burned in the region since 1950. However, a new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research finds that the fire was even more unprecedented than imagined: sediment cores found that it was the most destructive fire in the area for at least 5,000 years and maybe longer.
"If such fires occur every 200 years or every 500 years, it's a natural event," University of Illinois plant biology professor Feng Sheng Hu explains in a press release. "But another possibility is that these are truly unprecedented events caused by, say, greenhouse warming."
Analyzing sediment cores in the area for telltale signs of burning, i.e. charcoal particles, Hu found no sign of burning for at least 5,000 years. Hu then went further: he and his team modeled the area's temperature and precipitation alongside the area burned each year. They discovered what Hu calls a temperature "tipping point" when "the tundra is just going to burn more frequently."
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