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Title: Large changes in biomass burning over the last millennium inferred from paleoatmospheric ethane in polar ice cores

Biomass burning drives changes in greenhouse gases, climate-forcing aerosols, and global atmospheric chemistry. There is controversy about the magnitude and timing of changes in biomass burning emissions on millennial time scales from preindustrial to present and about the relative importance of climate change and human activities as the underlying cause. Biomass burning is one of two notable sources of ethane in the preindustrial atmosphere. Here, we present ice core ethane measurements from Antarctica and Greenland that contain information about changes in biomass burning emissions since 1000 CE (Common Era). The biomass burning emissions of ethane during the Medieval Period (1000–1500 CE) were higher than present day and declined sharply to a minimum during the cooler Little Ice Age (1600–1800 CE). Assuming that preindustrial atmospheric reactivity and transport were the same as in the modern atmosphere, we estimate that biomass burning emissions decreased by 30 to 45% from the Medieval Period to the Little Ice Age. The timing and magnitude of this decline in biomass burning emissions is consistent with that inferred from ice core methane stable carbon isotope ratios but inconsistent with histories based on sedimentary charcoal and ice core carbon monoxide measurements. This study demonstrates that biomass burning emissions more » have exceeded modern levels in the past and may be highly sensitive to changes in climate.

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Authors:
; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1907971
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10079869
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Volume:
115
Issue:
49
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 12413-12418
ISSN:
0027-8424
Publisher:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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