Wild Claim: ‘Someday, even wet forests could burn due to climate change’

From the Climate Change overrules fire science department comes what could very well be the most ridiculous climate scare headline of the year so far. We don’t have an “oxygen-rich atmosphere”. – Anthony


Someday, even wet forests could burn due to climate change

by Kelsey Simpkins, University of Colorado at Boulder via Eurekalert

Rainforests filled with steam and moisture, Khao Yai National Park

Millions of years ago, fire swept across the planet, fueled by an oxygen-rich atmosphere in which even wet forests burned, according to new research by University of Colorado Boulder scientists.

The study, published today in Nature Geoscience, provides geochemical evidence showing that forest fires expanded dramatically, potentially burning up to 30 or 40 percent of global forests during a 100,000 year interval more than 90 million years ago. While today’s fires are exacerbated by dry conditions, they found that forest fires during this period increased even in wet regions due to changes in global climate.

“Studying this period in Earth’s history can shine light on how the modern and future Earth might behave under global change,” said F. Garrett Boudinot, lead author and recent PhD graduate in the Department of Geological Sciences.

Boudinot analyzed samples from a rock core that spans what is known as the Oceanic Anoxic Event 2 (OAE2) in the Cretaceous period, about 94 million years ago. He found that an increased amount of carbon buried in the oceans at the start of this event was associated with indications for the occurrence of wildfires, which might have been caused by an increase in oxygen in the atmosphere.

“One of the consequences of having more oxygen in the atmosphere is that it’s easier to burn fires,” said Boudinot. “It’s the same reason you blow on embers to stoke a fire.”

Large amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere–much like what Earth is projected to experience by 2100–kick-started this cycle.

For 50,000 years before the OAE2 began, algae and land plants drew down this carbon into the oceans through photosynthesis, causing microbial respiration to increase, which led parts of the oceans to become low in or even devoid of oxygen, known as anoxia. This same process exists today in waters where too many nutrients end up in one place, like the mouth of the Mississippi River, where excess fertilizer runoff accumulates and feeds algae–which are then eaten up by microbes that consume oxygen, creating a dead zone. In these kinds of anoxic waters, the organic carbon that is stored from the atmosphere is buried in sediments, while the oxygen that was part of the carbon dioxide (CO2) is released to the atmosphere.

After 100,000 years of this ocean anoxia event–which was intensified by warming temperatures–oceans sediments around the globe had stored enough organic carbon that the atmosphere became rich in oxygen, so much so that it might have facilitated the burning of up to 40 percent of forests across the planet, even in wet and humid regions.

The planet is undergoing a similar transformation today as it did at the beginning of this cycle, with carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere and nutrients building up in the ocean. If these same patterns continue, history could repeat itself in the future, only centuries to millennia from today.

“It highlights that putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and nutrients into the ocean doesn’t just potentially increase global temperatures. It has significant impacts on the fundamental biogeochemistry or ecology of the planet, like how forests respond to fire,” said Boudinot, who now works in outreach at the Colorado Wildlife Council.

A mystery in Earth’s history

Boudinot never intended to analyze the rock core, drilled in Utah, for remnants of forest fires. It was drilled to better understand other various elements of OAE2, including how marine ecosystems responded to global change at that time in Earth’s history.

But he was also running another experiment at the same time, using an analytical method to identify molecular tracers of forest fires in rock samples from other times and locations. These tracers are called polycyclic, aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs–sometimes known as “pyro PAHs.”

Within the Utah rock core were black shales laden with organic matter preserved from almost 94 million years ago, when that part of the country was covered with sea. So Boudinot thought why not? And ran these same tests on the OAE2 rock core, finding there were a significant amount of these pyro PAHs in it.

“These organic molecules basically serve as molecular fossils,” said Julio Sepúlveda, senior author on the study, professor of geological sciences and fellow in the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.

These molecules are also related to the temperature of the fire itself. They indicated high temperature fires, created by forest fires.

The interval of OAE2 with more fires has also been something of a mystery to geologists. Not only is this new geochemical data rock solid, but it also represents a detailed evolution of the event–with each data point representing a smaller period of time. This gives scientists a clearer understanding of how carbon storage in the oceans is related to oxygen levels in the atmosphere and global temperatures, and the pace at which these climate feedbacks can occur.

While scientists suspect volcanic activity as the reason there was so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere before this event in Earth’s history began, Boudinot sees parallels to how much carbon dioxide humans are emitting today.

“This finding highlights the prolonged impacts of climate change. The climate change that we’re causing now, it’s not something where if we don’t fix it, only our grandkids will have to deal with it,” said Boudinot. “The history of climate change in Earth history tells us that the impacts are really long lasting.”

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The paper: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41561-020-0633-y

50 thoughts on “Wild Claim: ‘Someday, even wet forests could burn due to climate change’

  1. So if I read this correctly:
    100k years of CO2 DEPLETION via deep ocean sequestration was accompanied by RISING Temperatures and the development of an O2 rich atmosphere.

    Isn’t that the reverse of CO2 based catastrophism?

  2. “associated with indications for the occurrence of wildfires”

    Rather than do the work that validates the assumption they simply jump ahead. They are building weak speculation on top of equivocal relationships. Reminds me of “Stonehenge was built by dinosaurs”

    Kids these days are learning nothing about theory building. They simply do a study then speculate. This is exactly the opposite of science.

    • “Kids these days are learning nothing about theory building. They simply do a study then speculate. This is exactly the opposite of science.”

      Mix in some searches on Google as well. LOL!

  3. Rock-headed science from Boulder.
    If you buy yourself a scientist’s hat at the right store, your claims will be automatically validated. After any criticism comes the “How dare you” part.

  4. “The history of climate change in Earth history tells us that the impacts are really long lasting.”

    Hats off to Gaia for the legacy then as all that oxygen sounds like frightfully heady stuff. Gaia forbid all that CO2 should ever break apart again so we’d better have some in reserve and ways to nuke the oxygen.

  5. This is similar to the claims from comic books 50 years ago about burning water in your automobile instead of gasoline, and get the 200 mpg carburetor kit that makes that possible. Or the X-Ray glasses that see through women clothes. Or a multitude of other huckster style sales and deception we see everywhere with the climate issues now taking the cake for fake science. Burning a wet forest, even if you had a giant oxy-acetlene torch isn’t going to help to get the fire going. But a week of hot windy weather will get a fire going lickety-split.

  6. Oxygen levels have *DROPPED* (a trivial amount) in the last 800,000 years. They have continued to drop (very slightly) in the last 100 years. This tiny rate of decrease may have actually been faster in the last 100 years. Oxygen levels are known to be declining, NOT growing, and it not even remotely possible that any current process will increase the oxygen concentration to the ~30% needed for wet forests to burn. This claim is a BLATANT attempt at alarmism. It degrades the credibility of the University of Colorado and further destroys the credibility of Eurekalert.

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161003141140.htm

  7. “…potentially burning up to 30 or 40 percent of global forests during a 100,000 year interval…”

    Really? Why that’s….0.0003% to 0.0004% of global forest per year, isn’t it? And even THAT is hedged in ‘potentially’.

    A challenge–find something more micro-analyzed.

  8. We need more CO₂. More CO₂ means more fire extinguishers. More fire extinguishers means we can put out more academics’ pants-fires.

    • I have to say that in my limited scientific knowledge I always understood that CO2, especially when discharged from a fire extinguisher (the clue’s in the name!), was an excellent way to put a fire out.

      I’m tempted to think Boudinot is having a laugh. Surely nobody is quite that ignorant!

  9. “Someday” the opening scroll legend of MelBrooks movie “Spaceballs” will run right in the thin air & not just on celluloid.

  10. “This same process exists today in waters where too many nutrients end up in one place, like the mouth of the Mississippi River, where excess fertilizer runoff accumulates and feeds algae–which are then eaten up by microbes that consume oxygen, creating a dead zone. In these kinds of anoxic waters, the organic carbon that is stored from the atmosphere is buried in sediments, while the oxygen that was part of the carbon dioxide (CO2) is released to the atmosphere.”

    Haven’t read the paper, but–sorry, it is not dead, only a mostly hypoxic, sometime anoxic seasonal bottom layer of varying thickness, with exception of rare upwelling mostly from rare summer north winds. Described as a mosaic, even when full of anaerobic organisms is not dead, system exceptionally overall productive. [Craig, J. K., et al. 2010. Habitat use of cownose rays (Rhinoptera bonasus) in a highly productive, hypoxic continental shelf ecosystem. Fisheries Oceanography. 19(4):301-317.] I observed this once off the Louisiana coast, not sure what they are presumably eating. I have been to Boulder, recall cigarettes illegal, not so much other smokes. Have they been to the Louisiana coast? Ok, cheap shot.

    Posted this before– modeler discovered three dimensional ocean. Scavia, D.,et al.,. 2019. Hypoxic volume is more responsive than hypoxic area to nutrient load reductions in the northern Gulf of Mexico—and it matters to fish and fisheries. Environmental Research Letters.14(2):024012– https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aaf938

  11. Oxygen much above the current (~21%) level will cause serious problems in the electronic society.
    Facilities to prevent that from happening need to be designed real soon.
    Some want to go to Mars, a place short of O2 in its atmosphere. Seems there can be a plan to move some there. Does anyone have Elon’s phone number?

  12. So much is wrong in this article. First, the discovery of charcoal in ancient deposits is nothing new. Ash and pyrolized carbon is called “fusain” and is common in every coal seam.

    Second, paleo fires are nothing new. The O2 levels in the Carboniferous Period (360-300 mya) were ~35% compared to 21% today. That high concentration of O2 made everything flammable. O2 levels have declined gradually since the Carboniferous and have reached record lows during the Ice Age, but there’s still enough to burn forests.

    Third, so-called “wet forests” burn today. Fires in the “rain forests” of western WA and OR are infrequent but not absent. So are fires in the wet Amazon and coastal redwoods in CA. Abundant fuels will (and do) burn during occasional dry spells.

    Fourth, if the planet warms from increasing CO2 (doubtful), there will be more rain, not less. It will be wetter. That will dampen fires. The authors have it backasswards.

    Fifth, and hardly worth mentioning, is that hysterical dire predictions of the catastrophic effects of CO2 are as common as fleas and and even less intelligent. Foolish “scientists” who should never have been credentialed as such set their own hair on fire in an effect to extract money from a hopefully frightened public. It’s Halloween every day for these folks.

  13. Presumably this guy had to produce better work than this to earn his PHD or did he just hand in a sheet of paper with climate change I’ll tow the line written on it. I have no qualifications but I do have a hat, it keeps my head warm please can I have a PHD

  14. Umm, serious question here. If the carbon was split from the oxygen, and the oxygen released, where did the energy come from? Is that not an endothermic process, requiring large amounts of input to occur?

  15. The author of this article is either a simpleton or a bumpkin; his last name, appropriately enough, implies both! If ever an article deserved a “The stupid, it burns!” meme, this one does!
    If St. Greta’s magic molecule converts itself to it’s constituent atoms, instead of 21% atmospheric oxygen, we’d have 21.0004% plus a minute amount of atomic carbon to burn in the coming conflagration! Yeah, that’s a worrisome change; best get your fire insurance updated ASAP!
    Is it just me, or does it seem like the modern university experience includes a partial lobotomy for many?

    • Doh! 21.04% atmospheric oxygen! Now I really am worried! Time to invest in fire extinguishers!
      So is the author saying we need to raise or lower CO2 levels? Since she seems to be an environmental activist, I’m assuming she wants to kill off all life on Earth by lowering both O2 and CO2 levels to save the planet from the scourge of human intelligence! Fortunately, she is not part of the problem!

  16. RCP8.5 is deemed an impossible scenario, acknowledged so by alarmist sciency-guys and yet its used every day to generate a new fantasy island scare scenario.

    So why not 30-35% oxygen?
    When not 50 and have everything spontaneously combust?

  17. ‘Someday, even wet forests could burn due to climate change’… Over the years WUWT has charitably published many silly baseless articles, but this one really takes the First Prize.

  18. We start with a WRONG photo caption about steam and moisture. Steam is invisible to the camera. It is produced from water around 100C, not the lower T of this forest. The photo shows condensed water, which is moisture, so no need to repeat the word moisture.
    Next the problem of showing the old forests were wet when burned. Not possible to prove?
    Next, you do not enhance a starting fire with more oxygen by blowing on it. Your breath is depleted in oxygen and enriched in CO2, a fire retardant. Breathing on a fire works not on oxygen levels but on faster oxygen flow, same as fanning it.
    Then there are problems over time. Charcoal over a 100,000 year interval does not represent the average condition. In that time, many new forests can grow and old ones die. Species mix can change. This paper has really dumb and ignorant presumptions and is yet another example of poor science from the climate mob.
    Geoff S

    • +1.

      The author is obviously not a Boy Scout. We were taught that you don’t blow directly on the tinder once a coal appears. You blow next to it!

    • already happened…

      No it didn’t, legume-brain, that was a forest in serious drought, not “wet”. Forests burn when they’re dry.

  19. In my career, I have bumped into some pretty zany people. I have to conclude the author of this study would be up there with the best of them.
    The burning wet forests opens up a whole new category of grant aided research. Research into just how wet the forest has to be, to form the ideal condition for burning.
    Oh course it is all due to that evil fire promoting CO2. Makes you wonder why is is so popular as an extinguisher? You don’t think they are using too much of it in California by any chance, an easy mistake to make? I read on mine it says, ideal for electrical fires, now I know what that means now, after reading this very illuminating study, from Kelsey Simpkins.
    Remember that name folks, studies like this don’t come along every day….

  20. “Large amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere–much like what Earth is projected to experience by 2100–kick-started this cycle.”

    How Large? Hmmm? Is this not a scientific study? Where is the data?

    This person is a PhD candidate and that little blurb wouldn’t have passed a sophmore level lab class. It should have been returned with, “too many assumptions, no null hypothesis”.

  21. Wet forests burn. Very smoky. At least in the tropics where Ive lived in Australia and South East Asia

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