A ‘regime of wildfire’ contributed to carbon sequestration 15,000 years ago

The next time somebody says wildfires in the USA are “unprecedented” show them this. Buried fossil soils found to be awash in carbon

“It looks like there was an incredible amount of fire.”

Soils that formed on the Earth’s surface thousands of years ago and that are now deeply buried features of vanished landscapes have been found to be rich in carbon, adding a new dimension to our planet’s carbon cycle.

The finding, reported today (May 25, 2014) in the journal Nature Geoscience, is significant as it suggests that deep soils can contain long-buried stocks of organic carbon which could, through erosion, agriculture, deforestation, mining and other human activities, contribute to global climate change.

Photo: eroding bluff

An eroding bluff on the Great Plains reveals a buried, carbon-rich layer of fossil soil — which could contribute to climate change, according to new research. Photo: Joseph Mason

“There is a lot of carbon at depths where nobody is measuring,” says Erika Marin-Spiotta, a University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor of geography and the lead author of the new study. “It was assumed that there was little carbon in deeper soils. Most studies are done in only the top 30 centimeters. Our study is showing that we are potentially grossly underestimating carbon in soils.”

The soil studied by Marin-Spiotta and her colleagues, known as the Brady soil, formed between 15,000 and 13,500 years ago in what is now Nebraska, Kansas and other parts of the Great Plains. It lies up to six-and-a-half meters below the present-day surface and was buried by a vast accumulation of windborne dust known as loess beginning about 10,000 years ago, when the glaciers that covered much of North America began to retreat.

The region where the Brady soil formed was not glaciated, but underwent radical change as the Northern Hemisphere’s retreating glaciers sparked an abrupt shift in climate, including changes in vegetation and a regime of wildfire that contributed to carbon sequestration as the soil was rapidly buried by accumulating loess.

“Most of the carbon (in the Brady soil) was fire derived or black carbon,” notes Marin-Spiotta, whose team employed an array of new analytical methods, including spectroscopic and isotopic analyses, to parse the soil and its chemistry. “It looks like there was an incredible amount of fire.”

The team led by Marin-Spiotta also found organic matter from ancient plants that, thanks to the thick blanket of loess, had not fully decomposed.

Rapid burial helped isolate the soil from biological processes that would ordinarily break down carbon in the soil.

Such buried soils, according to UW-Madison geography Professor and study co-author Joseph Mason, are not unique to the Great Plains and occur worldwide.

The work suggests that fossil organic carbon in buried soils is widespread and, as humans increasingly disturb landscapes through a variety of activities, a potential contributor to climate change as carbon that had been locked away for thousands of years in arid and semiarid environments is reintroduced to the environment.

The element carbon comes in many forms and cycles through the environment — land, sea and atmosphere — just as water in various forms cycles through the ground, oceans and the air. Scientists have long known about the carbon storage capacity of soils, the potential for carbon sequestration, and that carbon in soil can be released to the atmosphere through microbial decomposition.

The finding is significant as it suggests that deep soils can contain long-buried stocks of organic carbon, which could contribute to global climate change.

The deeply buried soil studied by Marin-Spiotta, Mason and their colleagues, a one-meter-thick ribbon of dark soil far below the modern surface, is a time capsule of a past environment, the researchers explain. It provides a snapshot of an environment undergoing significant change due to a shifting climate. The retreat of the glaciers signaled a warming world, and likely contributed to a changing environment by setting the stage for an increased regime of wildfire.

“The world was getting warmer during the time the Brady soil formed,” says Mason. “Warm-season prairie grasses were increasing and their expansion on the landscape was almost certainly related to rising temperatures.”

The retreat of the glaciers also set in motion an era when loess began to cover large swaths of the ancient landscape. Essentially dust, loess deposits can be thick — more than 50 meters deep in parts of the Midwestern United States and areas of China. It blankets large areas, covering hundreds of square kilometers in meters of sediment.

The study conducted by Marin-Spiotta, Mason, former UW-Madison Nelson Institute graduate student Nina Chaopricha, and their colleagues was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

by Terry Devitt University of Wisconsin News Service

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64 thoughts on “A ‘regime of wildfire’ contributed to carbon sequestration 15,000 years ago

  1. This scientific research is the stuff that is expected of all Universes. And of course there is a cost associated with keeping these institutions open for business. However, the ridiculously excessive funding of CAGW scare mongers has to be stopped before it destroys the very society it is designed to improve.

  2. typo line 1 should be Universities

    [Are sure? Universes is actually more correct. 8<) .mod]

  3. Northern Hemisphere’s retreating glaciers sparked an abrupt shift in climate….

    head wall……….

  4. “deep soils can contain long-buried stocks of organic carbon, which could contribute to global climate change.”

    Everything has to be alarming.

  5. Latitude says:
    May 27, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Darn nice of the glaciers to leave and give us a warm-up.

  6. Surely we have known about “deep buried fossil organic carbon” for years!

    What do they think coal is?

  7. So if the Brady soil formed 13,500 to 15,000 years ago and this sequestered a significnt amount of carbon, what were the atmospheric CO2 concentrations before and after this period? If there was no significant drop in CO2 then the carbon sequestered is insignificant and this study is just for additional CAGW hype.

  8. @ JFisk May 27, 2014 at 3:08 pm
    “I assume that there must be similar evidence in Europe where the trees were cleared for agriculture?”
    Yep. And not necessarily just large scale activities. I was present on a construction site in Wales that needed to be investigated as it was located over the site of a rampart of a Roman fort. No artefacts emerged but there was a darker layer where the trees and brush had been burned.

  9. Funny thing this:

    The soil studied by Marin-Spiotta and her colleagues, known as the Brady soil, formed between 15,000 and 13,500 years ago in what is now Nebraska, Kansas and other parts of the Great Plains. It lies up to six-and-a-half meters below the present-day surface and was buried by a vast accumulation of windborne dust known as loess beginning about 10,000 years ago, when the glaciers that covered much of North America began to retreat.

    Isn’t that 13,500 years ago just about the time that all of the major large animals and several stone age civilizations across North America all … disappeared” at just about the same time that there was (or was not) a probable comet/meteorite strike across wide areas of North America?

  10. Could or couldn’t, that’s the question! Could or will, might or should, may or doesn’t, who knows! Settled science, yet no answers, only questions and suggestions. Meanwhile nothing happens, maybe it’s time to move on to some real problems, like hunger, malaria, childlabour, poverty.

    But who am I kidding, this whole scam is about fear and control. Let’s burn the food, let’s ruin the economies, let’s make everybodies life as miserable as possible, while people believe it’s for their own good. What a world.

  11. RACookPE1978 says:
    May 27, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    The Younger Dryas stadial occurred between ~12,800 & 11,500 years BP, but it’s unclear if the 13,500 to 15,000 BP date above is calendar or 14C.

  12. The retreat of the glaciers signaled a warming world, and likely contributed to a changing environment by setting the stage for an increased regime of wildfire.

    “The world was getting warmer during the time the Brady soil formed,” says Mason. “Warm-season prairie grasses were increasing and their expansion on the landscape was almost certainly related to rising temperatures.”

    I think the cause and effect were the other way around. Increasing fires (particularly peat fires which can burn for years) deposited black carbon on the glaciers, reducing albedo and triggering net melt. Falling sea levels from ice accumulation dried out coastal swamps sufficiently that fires could take hold.

  13. The soil studied by Marin-Spiotta and her colleagues, known as the Brady soil, formed between 15,000 and 13,500 years ago in what is now Nebraska, Kansas and other parts of the Great Plains.

    This was a colder time than now. It’s still worse than we thought.

  14. Boreal forest fires are getting worse as the climate warms. We must act now – and before, and again. When will the madness stop?
    Abstract – 2008
    Climate and wildfires in the North American boreal forest
    …Climate controls the area burned through changing the dynamics of large-scale teleconnection patterns (Pacific Decadal Oscillation/El Niño Southern Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation, PDO/ENSO and AO) that control the frequency of blocking highs over the continent at different time scales…
    ……Since the end of the Little Ice Age, the climate has been unusually moist and variable: large fire years have occurred in unusual years, fire frequency has decreased and fire–climate relationships have occurred at interannual to decadal time scales……

    http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/363/1501/2315.short

    ———————————

    Paper – 2008
    K.E Ruckstuhl et al
    Introduction. The boreal forest and global change

    ……In this issue, Macias & Johnson (2008) show that the frequency of these blocking highs in the North American boreal forest is controlled by the dynamics of large-scale teleconnection patterns (the Pacific Decadal Oscillation/El Niño-Southern Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation). They also note that warming itself is not a predictor of increased fires since, as shown in previous studies, fire frequency across the North American boreal forest decreased as the Little Ice Age came to an end in the late nineteenth century (Johnson 1992; Bergeron & Archambault 1993). The study by Macias & Johnson (2008) provides not only evidence for the link between decadal-scale changes in the teleconnection patterns (e.g. the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) index) and the increased fire frequency in the late twentieth century but also an explanation of why the pattern of fire variability and fire-climate relationships changes at different time scales from centennial/decadal to interannual…..

    http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/363/1501/2243.short

    ———————————

    Abstract – 1998
    M.D. Flannigan et. al.
    Future wildfire in circumboreal forests in relation to global warming

    Despite increasing temperatures since the end of the Little Ice Age (ca. 1850), wildfire frequency has decreased as shown in many field studies from North America and Europe. We believe that global warming since 1850 may have triggered decreases in fire frequency in some regions and future warming may even lead to further decreases in fire frequency….

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2307/3237261/abstract

    doi:10.2307/3237261
    ———————————
    Abstract- September 1993
    Yves Bergeron et. al. – The Holocene
    Decreasing frequency of forest fires in the southern boreal zone of Québec and its relation to global warming since the end of the ‘Little Ice Age

    We present here evidence from fire and tree-ring chronologies that the post-‘Little Ice Age’ climate change has profoundly decreased the frequency of fires in the northwestern Québec boreal forest.
    doi: 10.1177/095968369300300307
    ———————————
    Abstract – February 2000
    Henri D. Grissino Mayer et. al. – The Holocene –
    ….Century scale climate forcing of fire regimes in the American Southwest

    Following a centuries-long dry period with high fire frequency (c. AD 1400-1790), annual precipitation increased, fire frequency decreased, and the season of fire shifted from predominantly midsummer to late spring….

    http://hol.sagepub.com/content/10/2/213.short

  15. The world was getting warmer during the time the Brady soil formed,” says Mason. “Warm-season prairie grasses were increasing and their expansion on the landscape was almost certainly related to rising temperatures.”

    THAT WORLD was also COLDER THAN NOW. What is your point?

  16. The alarmist BS never ends. Speculation, massive funding, paid for results, pre-conceived outcomes, pal review, ignoble prizes, tropical climate tackling holidays, hypocrisy, high energy bills etc. and all to try and control the Earth’s thermometer. IT WILL FAIL. Check out the smart guys in China, India et al. They are laughing intensely, every day at this garbage.

  17. Hmm. Long buried stocks of organic carbon… It’s almost like higher carbon concentrations were much greater in the past, or something.

    Anyone interested in a remarkable theory that explains findings like this can read some Velikovksy.

  18. I just found out that it really is much, much worse than we thought. We must act to tackle “Total Wildland Fires and Acres” DECREASING since 1960. We must act. The climate is going crazy.
    US fire data

  19. Oh no! Fossil organic carbon could be a potential contributor to climate change “as humans increasingly disturb landscapes through a variety of activities…”

    In other words humans, you must stop all activities that might disturb landscapes – no farming, no mining, no drilling, no new housing developments, and certainly no underground atomic bomb testing. I assume they will want us all to crowd into existing urban areas and leave all other landscapes untouched. But if the countryside is not being farmed, how will the urban areas get food, by eating their dead? Perhaps, that’s also part of the plan. If most of us starve to death, all the better because there will be less stress on mother Gaia.

  20. RACookPE1978 says:
    May 27, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Funny thing this:

    The soil studied by Marin-Spiotta and her colleagues, known as the Brady soil, formed between 15,000 and 13,500 years ago in what is now Nebraska, Kansas and other parts of the Great Plains……………

    Isn’t that 13,500 years ago just about the time that all of the major large animals and several stone age civilizations across North America all … disappeared” at just about the same time that there was (or was not) a probable comet/meteorite strike across wide areas of North America?

    Good point. I do recall that earlier this month the idea was challenged. I don’t know what triggered the Younger Dryas, lots of ideas though.

    Study Questions Younger Dryas Event Comet Theories
    May 14, 2014

    http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1113145713/younger-dryas-event-comet-impact-theory-051414/

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:Y91Byp0DRhQJ:www.redorbit.com/news/science/1113145713/younger-dryas-event-comet-impact-theory-051414/+&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2628213/A-comet-impact-DIDNT-spark-climate-change-trigger-mass-extinction-12-800-years-ago-study-claims.html

    Sorry for the crap references but they do refer to a study.

  21. So changing climate was a feature of 13 millennia ago. Let’s see, what is the real take home here? Ah yes, wildfires sequester carbon for thousands of years and we get double the bang for the buck because new greenery has to grow using up more carbon. Let ‘er burn baby burn and then grow baby grow. Gee we got to get those Nebraska farmers to stop planting grain down 50 meters. It could disturb the sequestered carbon.

  22. “There is a lot of carbon at depths where nobody is measuring,” says Erika Marin-Spiotta, a University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor of geography and the lead author of the new study. “It was assumed that there was little carbon in deeper soils. Most studies are done in only the top 30 centimeters. Our study is showing that we are potentially grossly underestimating carbon in soils.”
    [...]
    Such buried soils, according to UW-Madison geography Professor and study co-author Joseph Mason, are not unique to the Great Plains and occur worldwide.

    Right. It’s supposedly one of the few studies that go deeper than the top 30 cm, but they go on to claim their results represent the whole world. Color me unimpressed.

  23. Gary Pearse says @ 6:01 PM…..Gee we got to get those Nebraska farmers to stop planting grain down 50 meters. It could disturb the sequestered carbon.

    Geezzz H Judas,Gary. Don’t give the EPA any ideas! As if any of us here in Canada/USA need more regs.

  24. “The soil studied by Marin-Spiotta and her colleagues, known as the Brady soil, formed between 15,000 and 13,500 years ago in what is now Nebraska, Kansas and other parts of the Great Plains. It lies up to six-and-a-half meters below the present-day surface…”

    Wait a sec. So if we carelessly erode the fertile topsoil in the region, there’s more “topsoil” below it?

    This is indeed good new–wait, it’s BAD news?

  25. Rich sources of carbon deeply buried… who knew?

    Tell that to a coal miner, the laughter might temporarily make him forget about the unemployment line Obama wants to put him in.

    • Yes I know, its like reading “science for dolts”. OTOH, if I (and readers like you) don’t point out how absurd some of these things are, who will?

      I published this one because it actually showed that large wildfires are not uncommon. In the age of fire suppression, we’ve built a cocoon of inexperience. – Anthony

  26. ***[Send] this thread to the Pentagon crowd! much, much, much more at the link:

    26 May: Washington Times: Rowan Scarborough: Retired officers poised to profit after Pentagon’s alarmist climate change report
    Urgent Obama call can funnel funds to projects
    Retired military officers deeply involved in the climate change movement — and some in companies positioned to profit from it — spearheaded an alarmist global warming report this month that calls on the Defense Department to ramp up spending on what it calls a man-made problem…
    The greatest influence on CNA reports seems to come from the Center for Climate and Security, whose position is that the debate on climate change, or man-made global warming, is over…
    The Center for Climate and Security has taken donations from the Tides Foundation, which gets money from Democratic Party financier and liberal billionaire George Soros…
    The CNA report was celebrated by other global warming foreboders, particularly The New York Times, which gave it home page prominence on its website…
    ***The CNA report is 100 percent climate change advocacy, stating as fact that global warming has caused flooding and wildfires. It uses phrases such as “more intense storms” and “more frequent and severe storms.”
    “Globally, we have seen recent prolonged drought act as a displacement of populations, each contributing to instability and eventual conflict,” the CNA said.
    Yet a number of scientists — and the United Nations — have looked at the history of storms and concluded that they cannot be blamed on climate change.
    Roger Pielke, an environmental scientist at the University of Colorado who has studied decades of U.S. storm data, told a Senate committee last year: “It is misleading and just plain incorrect to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or droughts have increased on climate time scales either in the United States or globally. It is further incorrect to associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases.”…

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/may/26/sponsors-of-pentagons-alarm-raising-climate-study-/

  27. Is it just me currently getting an “advert” for Smokey the Bear: “Get your Smokey on. Only you can prevent forest fires.”
    ?

  28. The Carboniferous period is when most of our coal was formed (lots of other periods formed coal as well but some the thickest best coal deposits are from this period in Europe and North America).

    Europe and North America were at the equator during this period and the other continents were in Gondwana over the south pole. The south pole and Gondwana, was repeatedly glaciated over, the glaciers pushed the land down, the ocean flowed in and the glaciers melted back repeatedly. This lead to sea level rising and falling rapidly, continuously for over 50 million years.

    Combined with higher CO2 levels and Europe and North America at the equator, lush tropical fern forests grew here very rapidly and did not decompose as fast as today because the organisms had not evolved yet to break-down cellulose and other plant material.

    Combined with variable sea level and less decomposition, the Oxygen content of the atmosphere was as much as 35% compared to today’s 20%. If a forest fire started, it would not stop until there was days and days of rain. A forest fire could literally travel right across the continent. The forests burn down all the way to the ground every few years.

    So, now the picture comes together. High CO2, rapidly growing lush forests, less decomposition, massive unstoppable fires, repeated changes in sea level burying the organic remains to turn into … Big coal in Europe and North America.

    ———

    Now go back to the end of the last ice age. North America was either grassland or glacier or tundra. (only the US southeast was forested … everywhere else was tundra, Grassland or glacier, partly due to the lower CO2 level).

    Grassland has two relevant features. It buries Carbon much better than a forest does. The black soils of the prairie are evidence of this. And wild Grassland burns every few years as a prairie fire is almost unstoppable in the higher winds. Hence, Carbon sequestration of Grass is many times higher than is generally recognized.

    Each acre of Grass or Pasture sequesters 0.3 tons of Carbon each year. Now multiply that by how acres there are on the planet and throw in some pre-industrial prairie fires every few years, and throw in Grassland covering most of North America at the end of the last ice age and what do you have. Black soils and carbon sequestration.

  29. Carbon is estimated to be the fourth most abundant element in the universe. What should be explained by the authors is exactly how “…biological processes that would ordinarily break down carbon in the soil” work. Show how biological processes breaking down carbon would be an astounding scientific breakdown since it reverses the usual method stars used which create carbon a result of nuclear fusion among three helium atoms. It must be one of the amoebae chewing up the carbon to produce the world’s helium which then contributes to the oscillating universal big bang..
    One simply stands in awe of green science.

  30. RACookPE1978 says:
    May 27, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Funny thing this:
    Isn’t that 13,500 years ago just about the time that all of the major large animals and several stone age civilizations across North America all … disappeared” at just about the same time that there was (or was not) a probable comet/meteorite strike across wide areas of North America?

    Don’t know about that, though I think that was about the last time the Cubs won the World Series.

  31. Marcos, The Koch brothers are planning to burn that sequestered carbon in order to add to the earth’s stockpile of carbon dioxide.

  32. @Katherine at 6:08 pm
    Good catch on the inconsistency:
    A) “There is a lot of carbon at depths where nobody is measuring,
    (Erika Marin-Spiotta, a University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor of geography and the lead author of the new study. )
    B) Such buried soils according to UW-Madison geography Professor and study co-author Joseph Mason, are not unique to the Great Plains and occur worldwide

    I suggest that these professors of geography get out a little more. Wander around campus. Stumble into the Department of Geoscience Ask any one there if the concept of paleosoils, total organic carbon content, and soil coring is something that has occurred to them.

    Maybe you will run into Shaw Marcott (of Marcott 2013) who not only looks at paleo soils, but has no compunction against redating the work of other people to make his own poorly supported hockey stick.

  33. “carbon which could, through erosion, agriculture, deforestation, mining and other human activities, contribute to global climate change.”

    OMG, it’s worse that we thought !!

  34. Back where I grew up, the loess soils were around 80+ feet thick, forming bluffs along the Mississippi river. Back in my bulldozer days, I learned that graded into any kind of slope, loess would wash away with the first rain, but I’ve seen vertical cuts that I made four decades ago hanging together just fine.

    The winds that blew all that loess must have been extremely strong and lasted a couple lifetimes, it not centuries.

  35. “The work suggests that fossil organic carbon in buried soils is widespread and, as humans increasingly disturb landscapes through a variety of activities, a potential contributor to climate change as carbon that had been locked away for thousands of years in arid and semiarid environments is reintroduced to the environment.”

    Now it happens that elemental carbon (=charcoal/soot/fusain) is one of the most stable elements known to science. It is essentially indestructible and will last unchanged for hundreds of millions of year (that is why there is so much coal to be mined). It can only be turned into CO2 by high temperature combustion. So unless “disturbance” includes roasting the disturbed soil that coal isn’t being “reintroduced” anywhere.
    Peat (which does not occur in “arid and semiarid areas”) is very different, unless waterlogged it will relatively quickly break down to carbon dioxide and water by bacterial action. These jokers are trying to muddle things up by first talking about (elemental) coal left by wildfires and then switching to “fossil organic carbon”. You have to watch the pea carefully in “climate science”.

  36. It lies up to six-and-a-half meters below the present-day surface and was buried by a vast accumulation of windborne dust known as loess beginning about 10,000 years ago, when the glaciers that covered much of North America began to retreat.

    Well, there was a hundred times more airborne dust when it was cold. As soon as it started warming, dust cleared up.

    So much so, that “dust age” seems to be a better term than “ice age”. Just imagine the incredible dust bowl events needed to form hundreds of feet thick loess deposits all over the Northern hemisphere. Must have been truly catastrophic, nothing even remotely comparable occurs under the current mild climate regime.

  37. “Most of the carbon (in the Brady soil) was fire derived or black carbon,” notes Marin-Spiotta, whose team employed an array of new analytical methods, including spectroscopic and isotopic analyses, to parse the soil and its chemistry. “It looks like there was an incredible amount of fire.”

    Can’t help but feel a twinge of skeptiscm. The wildfires that I have seen (granted, different plant profile), and I have seen a few, seemed to burn more completely, leaving a moonscape of white ash with just the occasional incompletely burnt stump of charcoal. Certainly not layers of black carbon. The more ‘incredible’ the fire, the more complete the combustion and the less black remains. After all, charcoal/carbon is a good fuel once it gets going… why would it stop burning with so much around? (My Weber also leaves white ash, having started with charcoal) Something is not right here… probably my own stupidity…

  38. The work suggests that there is still a lot we don’t understand about the land, sea, and air of this planet – so much so that making long-range forecasts is still a fool’s errand. It is certain that the multi-component system is so complex that no single component can be a consistent driver of the system.

  39. You dig in the ground.
    Different carbons are found diamond being one.
    Charcoal and coal burn well.

  40. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1265&context=geosciencefacpub

    From 2008. Nice map of distribution and all sorts of goodies.

    Abstract
    Various lines of evidence support conflicting interpretations of the timing, abruptness, and nature of climate change in
    the Great Plains during the Pleistocene–Holocene transition. Loess deposits and paleosols on both the central and northern
    Great Plains provide a valuable record that can help address these issues. A synthesis of new and previously reported
    optical and radiocarbon ages indicates that the Brady Soil, which marks the boundary between late Pleistocene
    Peoria Loess and Holocene Bignell Loess, began forming after a reduction in the rate of Peoria Loess accumulation that
    most likely occurred between 13.5 and 15 cal ka. Brady Soil formation spanned all or part of the Bølling-Allerød episode
    (approximately 14.7–12.9 cal ka) and all of the Younger Dryas episode (12.9–11.5 cal ka) and extended at least 1000 years
    beyond the end of the Younger Dryas. The Brady Soil was buried by Bignell Loess sedimentation beginning around
    10.5–9 cal ka, and continuing episodically through the Holocene. Evidence for a brief increase in loess influx during the
    Younger Dryas is noteworthy but very limited. Most late Quaternary loess accumulation in the central Great Plains was
    nonglacigenic and was under relatively direct climatic control. Thus, Brady Soil formation records climatic conditions
    that minimized eolian activity and allowed effective pedogenesis, probably through relatively high effective moisture.
    Optical dating of loess in North Dakota supports correlation of the Leonard Paleosol on the northern Great Plains with
    the Brady Soil. Thick loess in North Dakota was primarily derived from the Missouri River floodplain; thus, its stratigraphy
    may in part reflect glacial influence on the Missouri River. Nonetheless, the persistence of minimal loess accumulation
    and soil formation until 10 cal ka at our North Dakota study site is best explained by a prolonged interval of high
    effective moisture correlative with the conditions that favored Brady Soil formation. Burial of both the Brady Soil and
    the Leonard Paleosol by renewed loess influx probably represents eolian system response that occurred when gradual
    change toward a drier climate eventually crossed the threshold for eolian activity. Overall, the loess–paleosol sequences
    of the central and northern Great Plains record a broad peak of high effective moisture across the late Pleistocene to Holocene
    boundary, rather than well-defined climatic episodes corresponding to the Bølling-Allerød and Younger Dryas
    episodes in the North Atlantic region.

    So a very long process, not a momentary event. Starts with warming and wettening causing more growth, ends with renewed wind blown loess covering it all as things dried out again. Looks to me more like a smoldering damp grass fire than a raging inferno (that, as pointed out above, tends to leave white ash not black carbon)

    Now I’d just like someone to explain how CO2 caused the warming, wettening, drying, cooling etc. etc. etc. of all those changes prior to burning oil…

  41. This “study” is so wrong on so many levels. Over-the-top stupid. We are truly living in a new Dark Age, and Common Reason no longer exists.

  42. RACook and others refer to the work of Firestone et al on plausible relationships between the Younger Dryas, megafauna extinction, and the strike of a comet that broke up in the atmosphere. There are other somewhat wild hypotheses that involve mammoths that were buried and preserved standing up nearly instantaneously, but I dare not delve too far into that literature. If the deposit described here is massive rather than laminated, then this would objectively be supportive of Firestone, but if it represents mulitiple fires over a long interval then not so much. But I’m not going past the paywall to find out.

  43. How is this news? As a kid, I saw a layer of fine charcoal several feet below the surface in a bluff face on a ranch near San Antonio, Texas. This was 50 years ago. The layer was approximately 2 inches thick.

    My cousins and I wondered at the time what sort of forest fire created that layer.

    The bluff and the fine carbon layer are still there.

  44. The finding is significant as it suggests that deep soils can contain long-buried stocks of organic carbon, which could contribute to global climate change.
    The stumps and logs and bits of charcoal I see lying around from fires a hundred years ago show how little charcoal changes in the Colorado mountains. Poking the soil [shows] more charcoal. What exactly do they think charcoal will do to become CO2? Maybe if we wish really hard and clap all our hands at once, it will grow wings…..

  45. There is a profound scientific blunder in the press release.
    We are not properly scientific if we accept statements like this.
    The blunder is that the speculation about how the carbon ended up where it is, and the general conditions at the time, are written in the affirmative, yet all of that is speculation.

    In this quote below, all statements of “fact” concerning what happened in the past are speculation, not fact, and so cannot be written in the affirmative…

    “The soil studied by Marin-Spiotta and her colleagues, known as the Brady soil, formed between 15,000 and 13,500 years ago….It…was buried by a vast accumulation of windborne dust known as loess beginning about 10,000 years ago, when the glaciers that covered much of North America began to retreat.

    “The region where the Brady soil formed was not glaciated, but underwent radical change as the Northern Hemisphere’s retreating glaciers sparked an abrupt shift in climate, including changes in vegetation and a regime of wildfire that contributed to carbon sequestration as the soil was rapidly buried by accumulating loess.”

    “Science” is taught to schoolchildren like this. Then they grow up to give me grief, and I to give them greater grief, when I attempt to turn them into proper scientists, citing evidence for all claims of fact, and being properly speculative about all conjectures.

    When you think in a properly conjectural way, you discipline yourself to be open to new ideas and associations, you form stronger defenses of your speculations, and you develop more rigorous tests of them.

    When you accept the orthodoxy of “established science.” you fail.

    As an undergrad, I took an anthropology course taught by a grad student. For a good part of the class, he presented the current Homo family tree, and arguments for it – based on speculated dates and bone morphology, and the assumption of evolution by natural selection.

    Then, with a family tree all in place leading up to Homo sapiens, he told us that all of this was most likely to be overturned and modified as the years go by.

    I have seen this to be true since that course a few decades ago – Nat Geographic kept confirming what this proper scientist knew.

  46. Fires aren’t happening at a greater rate than in the past, but they are being put out at a faster rate. Until the last 60 years or so there wasn’t much that could be done about forest fires, nowadays humans have an affect on these fires, putting them out much faster than in the past. Before humans developed fire fighting technology these fires had to burn until all the fuel was gone or it rained heavily enough to make a difference.

  47. Once again we have a study about something interesting but obscure, the dark layer of “Brady soil,” which then tacks on some sort of Global Warming, CO2 bull, in an attempt to rise from obscurity.

    We should refer to these appendages tacked onto papers as “the carbon tacks.”

    We should also understand it isn’t easy to be obscure, working on an obscure topic. Whether it is art or science, such work involves loneliness and poverty, and in some cases there is no financial support whatsoever, and the person is working purely out of love for the particular “Brady soil” they study. However, even in the case of such altruistic souls, there is a longing for support and understanding, a deep wish someone would come along and say, “Wow! I think that is worthwhile! Here’s a wad of cash so you can quit your real job and focus on Brady soil.”

    In such cases there is a tendency to genuflect towards the rich, even if the rich are fools, hoping for a handout. There are plenty of examples of geniuses like Bach and Mozart dressed in the same livery the butler wore, genuflecting to so-called “lords” of their time, even when such “lords” were men who who played the piano with their fists.

    We are seeing the same thing played out now, with scientists putting “the carbon tacks” into their papers as a genuflection towards the so-called “lords” of our time, who happen to be able to print money out of thin air, down in Washington, managing our budget with their fists.

    It is up to the real geologists to look at papers such as the above paper, and see if it actually contains any new knowledge about “Brady soil.”

  48. “The finding, reported today (May 25, 2014) in the journal Nature Geoscience, is significant as it suggests that deep soils can contain long-buried stocks of organic carbon which could, through erosion, agriculture, deforestation, mining and other human activities, contribute to global climate change.”

    I thought the biggest “carbon” threat was CO2 gas and coal, not minute, solid carbon particles that, if unearthed, remain solid and are not burned. As for layers of charcoal buried many feet under the current surface of the ground, of course wildfires, once started, spread for as long as there was sufficient fuel to feed them. After all, there were no government agencies around to try to put them out or contain them. Just a few years ago, during some deep digging in the Baltimore inner harbor area, a layer of charcoal found many yards deep. It was estimated the fires were raging about 5,000 years ago.

  49. Here’s a neat clip of Mozart meeting the emperor, which is a little like a Climate Skeptic trying to speak truth in Washington DC.

  50. tty says:
    May 28, 2014 at 12:40 am
    . . . These jokers are trying to muddle things up by first talking about (elemental) coal left by wildfires and then switching to “fossil organic carbon”. You have to watch the pea carefully in “climate science”.

    Is that what they’re doing? I read just the press release, and decided whoever wrote it had succumbed to the media confusion of ‘carbon’ with ‘carbon dioxide’, and somehow all that black carbon was going to evaporate into the air and heat up the Earth. Was there a more profound misconstruction in the paper itself? I’d rather not have to bother reading it.

    /Mr Lynn

  51. Lake bed deposits in Alaska showed warming led to less fire with greener growth. Acreage burned has increased in the Lower 48, while number of fires has decreased:

    If warming leads generally to fewer fires, we must look for other reasons for ash at 15ky. Here are some possibilities.
    1) Humans arrived and didn’t bother to douse their campfires. They may have even used fire to flush game.
    2) Humans arrived and killed off grazers, leading to greater growth of grass and brush, hence more fires.
    3) Receding ice exposed peat bogs which ignited. Cf. Siberia today: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/fires/main/world/20120828-russia.html

    –AGF

  52. All this talk about an organic-rich soil and not a single mention of the total organic carbon (TOC). Is this university science or play time? These paleosols, as a true scientist would call them, can contribute as much to atmospheric carbon dioxide as I can to sea level by pissing in the ocean.

  53. For anyone shaking their heads thinking university scientific research standards couldn’t possibly get any lower than this garbage report, think again. Imagine these and other findings being compiled for debate between today’s top collegiate debate teams. I agree with the poster above who said we’re in the ‘Dark Age’. Figuratively speaking, of course.
    Our Top Orators in Action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9ZFoI2oFnI

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