Science

Scientists have discovered the oldest known wildfires, dating back 430 million years

By FactsWow Team

Posted on: 20 Jun, 2022

Scientists have discovered the oldest wildfires

According to 430-million-year-old charcoal deposits discovered in Wales and Poland, scientists have discovered the oldest wildfires. They provide essential information on life on Earth during the Silurian period.

The study's flames would have burnt through relatively short vegetation

Plant life would have significantly relied on water to reproduce back then and would have most likely not appeared in dry areas for the entire year. The study's flames would have burnt through relatively short vegetation, except for the occasional knee- or waist-high plant.

According to the researchers

According to the researchers, the ancient fungus Prototaxites would have dominated the environment rather than trees. Little is known about the fungus. However, it is estimated to have grown as tall as nine meters (or nearly 30 feet).

One of the samples was utilized in the investigation. Geology, 2022 (Glasspool et al.)

'Our evidence of fire now appears to correspond closely with our evidence of the earliest land plant macrofossils,' says paleobotanist Ian Glasspool of Colby College in Maine.

According to the researchers

'So, as soon as there's fuel, at least in the form of plant macrofossils, there's almost quick wildfire.'Wildfires require fuel (plants), an igniting source (in this case, lightning strikes), and enough oxygen to burn. The ability of the fires to spread and leave charcoal deposits shows that Earth's atmospheric oxygen levels were at least 16 percent, according to the researchers.

Today, that amount is 21 percent, but it has fluctuated drastically throughout Earth's history. Their findings suggest atmospheric oxygen levels 430 million years ago could have been as high as 21%.

This is extremely useful knowledge for paleontologists

The theory is that greater plant life and photosynthesis would have contributed more to the oxygen cycle around the time of these wildfires. Understanding the specifics of that oxygen cycle across time helps scientists understand how life may have developed. All of this is extremely useful knowledge for paleontologists.

Colby College paleontologist Robert Gastaldo explains

'The Silurian terrain required enough vegetation over it to propagate wildfires and leave a record of that blaze,' explains Colby College paleontologist Robert Gastaldo.

'There was enough biomass around at the points in time that we're sampling windows of to provide us with a record of wildfire that we can identify and utilise to locate the vegetation and process in time.'

The geography that is now Europe looked very different hundreds of millions of years ago, and the two sites used for the study would have been on the old Avalonia and Baltica continents during the time these wildfires were raging.

Wildfires then, as now, would have had a huge impact on carbon and phosphorus cycles and the movement of sediment on the Earth's surface. It's a complicated set of operations that requires a lot of unpacking.

Record for the oldest wildfire by 10 million years

This discovery undoubtedly aids in unpacking, breaking the previous record for the oldest wildfire by 10 million years. It also emphasizes the importance of wildfire study in chronicling Earth's history.' For a long time, wildfire has been a fundamental component in Earth-system dynamics, and its involvement in those processes has probably definitely been understated,' adds Glasspool.

Thank You!

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