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Forest fires and wildland fires are common in summer in the temperate boreal forest, rarer at high altitudes, and unheard of in an ice age at high altitudes - until now. Evidence of wildfires dating back 20,000 years was recently discovered in the Massif du Queyras, in the heart of the French Alps, 2,240 metres above sea level. The news comes in a joint Canada-France study published in New Phytologist and co-authored by Olivier Blarquez, a geography professor at Université de Montréal, and Christopher Carcaillet, a professor at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, in Paris, and at the Laboratoire d'écologie des hydrosystèmes naturels et anthropisés (CNRS/Université Lyon 1/ENTPE).
"This discovery is not trivial," said Blarquez. "It echoes the recent wildfires in the Arctic tundra, where [the presence of] trees have become increasingly common. The situation has drawn the attention of the scientific community because of its significant impact on the [Earth's] carbon cycle. Changes in high mountain forest cover due to global warming, and especially the abandonment of agricultural land, risk exacerbating the spread of wildfires in the coming years."
Study - Blarquez - Carcaillet - Reconstruct - Wildland
In their study, Blarquez and Carcaillet reconstruct wildland fire frequency and forest composition over the past 20,000 years, including the Last Glacial Maximum, when ice sheets were at their greatest extension. The researchers' findings suggest there was a tree glacial refugium during this period, when wildfires were able to break out. The authors also consider the complex long-term interactions between fires, vegetation and climate.
"Wildfires spread when fuel is available and the climate is dry," said Carcaillet, who is also co-director of the Laboratoire international associé franco-canadien MONTABOR.
Wildland - Fires - Mountain - Areas - Discovery
"It is therefore counterintuitive to imagine wildland fires in periglacial, subpolar or mountain areas. And yet [the discovery of] high mountain lacustrine sediments revealed...
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