Humans had a significant impact on the atmosphere long before the industrial revolution

When it comes to global warming and carbon emissions, this is mostly seen as a consequence of the industrial revolution and the rapid and unsustainable growth since then.

However, researchers on a recent expedition to Antarctica discovered something that upsets this view. When the British Antarctic Survey team analyzed ice cores drilled on the eternally frozen Antarctic Platform, they unexpectedly discovered an increased amount of black carbon from the early 1300s to the present day.

Carbon black or soot is produced by burning fossil fuels and biomass, such as wood. In nature, large amounts of biomass are produced during forest fires. However, since Antarctica is a frozen desert, the soot must have come from elsewhere.

In an article published in the journal Nature, researchers believe the black carbon may have come from fires in New Zealand after the Maori people began arriving on the islands and began burning forests to clear land.

Ice cores were drilled into bedrock in 2008 by the British Antarctic Survey. Credit: Jack Triest

“The idea that humans at this time in history caused such a large change in atmospheric black carbon through their land clearing activities is quite surprising,” said Joe McConnell, lead author of the article and professor of research at the Desert Research Institute (DRI).

We used to think that if you went back a few hundred years ago that you would be in the presence of a pristine pre-industrial world, but it is clear from this study that humans have had an impact on the environment in the- over the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic Peninsula for at least at least the past 700 years. “

“Compared to natural burning in places like the Amazon, Southern Africa or Australia, you wouldn’t expect Maori burning in New Zealand to have a big impact, but it does on the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic Peninsula, ”said Nathan Chellman. , postdoctoral fellow at the DRI.

Being able to use the ice core recordings to show the impacts on atmospheric chemistry that reached the entire Southern Ocean and being able to attribute that to the arrival and settlement of the Maori in New Zealand 700 years ago was incredible. “

Cover image: Shutterstock

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