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31 January 2009
Comet impact theory disproved

New data, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, disproves the recent theory that a large comet exploded over North America 12,900 years ago, causing a shock wave that travelled at hundreds of kilometres per hour and triggering continent-wide wildfires.
     Dr Sandy Harrison from the University of Bristol and colleagues tested the theory by examining charcoal and pollen records to assess how fire regimes in North America changed between 15 and 10,000 years ago, a time of large and rapid climate changes. Their results provide no evidence for continental-scale fires, but support the fact that the increase in large-scale wildfires in all regions of the world during the past decade is related to an increase in global warming.
Dr Harrison said, "Fire is the most ubiquitous form of landscape disturbance and has important effects on climate through the global carbon cycle and changing atmospheric chemistry. The end of the Younger Dryas, about 11,700 years ago, was an interval when the temperature of Greenland warmed by over 5°C in less than a few decades. We used 35 records of charcoal accumulation in lake sediments from sites across North America to see whether fire regimes across the continent showed any response to such rapid warming."
     The team found clear changes in biomass burning and fire frequency whenever climate changed abruptly, and most particularly when temperatures increased at the end of the Younger Dryas cold phase.

Source: University of Bristol (26 January 2009)

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