Letter abstract

Nature Geoscience 3, 426 - 429 (2010)
Published online: 23 May 2010 | doi:10.1038/ngeo871

Subject Categories: Palaeoclimate and palaeoceanography | Palaeontology

Increased fire activity at the Triassic/Jurassic boundary in Greenland due to climate-driven floral change

Claire M. Belcher1, Luke Mander1, Guillermo Rein2, Freddy X. Jervis2, Matthew Haworth1, Stephen P. Hesselbo3, Ian J. Glasspool4 & Jennifer C. McElwain1


One of the largest mass extinctions of the past 600 million years (Myr) occurred 200Myr ago, at the Triassic/Jurassic boundary. The major floral and faunal turnovers1 have been linked to a marked increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels2, probably resulting from massive volcanism in the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province3, 4. Future climate change predictions suggest that fire activity may increase5, in part because higher global temperatures are thought to increase storminess6, 7. Here we use palaeontological reconstructions of the fossil flora from East Greenland to assess forest flammability along with records of fossil charcoal preserved in the rocks to show that fire activity increased markedly across the Triassic/Jurassic boundary. We find a fivefold increase in the abundance of fossil charcoal in the earliest Jurassic, which we attribute to a climate-driven shift from a prevalence of broad-leaved taxa to a predominantly narrow-leaved assemblage. Our fire calorimetry experiments show that narrow leaf morphologies are more flammable than broad-leaved morphologies. We suggest that the warming associated with increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels favoured a dominance of narrow-leaved plants, which, coupled with more frequent lightening strikes, led to an increase in fire activity at the Triassic/Jurassic boundary.

  1. School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland
  2. BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering, School of Engineering, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3JL, UK
  3. Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PR, UK
  4. Geology Department, Field Museum of Natural History, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60605, USA

Correspondence to: Claire M. Belcher1 e-mail: belchercm@gmail.com


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Supplementary Fig. S1

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Supplementary Information

Nature Geoscience Letter (01 Sep 2010)