2014 GSA Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia (19–22 October 2014)

Paper No. 218-7
Presentation Time: 10:30 AM

TRACING THE SIGNATURE OF SMOULDERING PEAT FIRES IN THE HOLOCENE


NEW, Stacey L.1, BELCHER, Claire M.1, GALLEGO-SALA, Angela V.1, HUDSPITH, Victoria2 and YEARSLEY, Jonathan M.3, (1)Department of Geography, University of Exeter, Exeter, EX4 4PS, United Kingdom, (2)Department of Geography, University of Exeter, Exeter, EX4 4QE, United Kingdom, (3)School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland, c.belcher@exeter.ac.uk

The recognition of charred peats in Holocene records, created during smouldering wildfires, has the potential to indicate substantial losses of old carbon during wildfire events. To date, little attention has been paid to the identification of burnt or charred peat particles despite the huge numbers of peat cores studied as part of Holocene studies seeking to investigate the past fire histories of peatlands. Through the creation of charred peats in the laboratory we have assessed the likely morphologies of char resulting from the burning of peat. We have then studied two peatland cores from entirely different ecosystems to assess whether such laboratory produced charred peat morphologies can be observed in natural peatland ecosystems. We find evidence of burnt peat particles in a temperate peatland at All Saints Bog, County Offaly, Ireland, and in a tropical peatland at Sebangau Peat Swamp Forest, Indonesia. Both periods of significant burning in these ecosystems appear to link to dry periods in the Holocene climate record. Future peatland research should consider quantifying the evidence for charred peats in order to provide information on the effect of wildfires on Earth’s carbon cycle in these important ecosystems.