Regional variability in peatland burning at mid- to high-latitudes during the Holocene

Tom Sim, Graeme T. Swindles, Paul J. Morris, Andy J. Baird, Angela V. Gallego-Sala, Yuwan Wang, Maarten Blaauw, Philip Camill, Michelle Garneau, Mark Hardiman, Julie Loisel, Minna Vӓliranta, Lysanna Anderson, Karina Apolinarska, Femke Augustijns, Liene Aurnina, Joannie Beaulne, Přemys Bobek, Werner Borken, Nils BroothaertsQiao-Yu Cui, Marissa A. Davies, Ana Ejarque, Michelle Farrell, Ingo Feeser, Angelica Feurdean, Richard E. Fewster, Sarah A. Finkelstein, Marie-José Gaillard, Marius Gałka, Liam Heffernan, Renske Hoevers, Miriam Jones, Teemu Juselius, Edgar Karofeld, Klaus-Holger Knorr, Atte Korhola, Dmitri Kupriyanov, Malin E. Kylander, Terri Lacourse, Mariusz Lamentowicz, Martin Lavoie, Geoffrey Lemdahl, Dominika Łuców, Gabriel Magnan, Alekss Maksims, Claudia A. Mansilla, Katarzyna Marcisz, Elena Marinova, Paul J.H. Mathijssen, Dmitri Mauquoy, Yuri A. Mazei, Natalia Mazei, Julia McCarroll, Robert D. McCulloch, Alice M. Milner, Yannick Miras, Fraser J.G. Mitchell, Elena Novenko, Nicolas Pelletier, Matthew Peros, Sanna R. Piilo, Louis-Martin Pilote, Guillaume Primeau, Damien Rius, Vincent Robin, Mylène Robitaille, Thomas P. Roland, Eleonor Ryberg, A. Britta K. Sannel, Karsten Schittek, Gabriel Servera-Vives, William Shotyk, Michał Słowiński3, Normunds Stivrins, Ward Swinnen, Gareth Thompson, Alexei Tiunov, Andrey N. Tsyganov, Eeva-Stiina Tuittila, Gert Verstraeten, Tuomo Wallenius, Julia Webb, Debra Willard, Zicheng Yu, Claudio Zaccone, Hui Zhang

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Northern peatlands store globally-important amounts of carbon in the form of partly decomposed plant detritus. Drying associated with climate and land-use change may lead to increased fire frequency and severity in peatlands and the rapid loss of carbon to the atmosphere. However, our understanding of the patterns and drivers of peatland burning on an appropriate decadal to millennial
timescale relies heavily on individual site-based reconstructions. For the first time, we synthesise peatland macrocharcoal records from across North America, Europe, and Patagonia to reveal regional variation in peatland burning during the Holocene. We used an existing database of proximal sedimentary charcoal to represent regional burning trends in the wider landscape for each region.
Long-term trends in peatland burning appear to be largely climate driven, with human activities likely having an increasing influence in the late Holocene. Warmer conditions during the Holocene Thermal Maximum (~9 to 6 cal. ka BP) were associated with greater peatland burning in North America’s Atlantic coast, southern Scandinavia and the Baltics, and Patagonia. Since the Little Ice Age, peatland burning has declined across North America and in some areas of Europe. This decline is mirrored by a decrease in wider landscape burning in some, but not all sub-regions, linked to fire-suppression policies, and landscape fragmentation caused by agricultural expansion. Peatlands demonstrate lower
susceptibility to burning than the wider landscape in several instances, probably because of autogenic processes that maintain high levels of near-surface wetness even during drought. Nonetheless, widespread drying and degradation of peatlands, particularly in Europe, has likely increased their vulnerability to burning in recent centuries. Consequently, peatland restoration efforts are important to mitigate the risk of peatland fire under a changing climate. Finally, we make recommendations for future research to improve our understanding of the controls on peatland fires.
Original languageEnglish
Article number108020
Number of pages17
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Early online date11 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

/© 2023 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (


This work developed from the PAGES (Past Global Changes) CPEAT (Carbon in Peat on EArth through Time) working group.
PAGES has been supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation,
Swiss National Science Foundation, Swiss Academy of Sciences and
Chinese Academy of Sciences. We acknowledge the following
financial support: U.K. Natural Environment Research Council
Training Grants NE/L002574/1 (T.G.S.) and NE/S007458/1 (R.E.F.);
Dutch Foundation for the Conservation of Irish Bogs, Quaternary
Research Association and Leverhulme Trust RPG-2021-354 (G.T.S.);
the Academy of Finland (M.V.); PAI/SIA 77180002 and FONDECYT
Iniciacion 11220705 - ANID, Chile (C.A.M.); R20F0002 (PATSER)
ANID Chile (R.D.M.); Swedish Strategic Research Area (SRA) MERGE
(ModElling the Regional and Global Earth system) (M.J.G.); Polish
National Science Centre (NCN) Grant numbers 2018/29/B/ST10/
00120 (K.A.), 2021/41/B/ST10/00060 (M.L.), 2018/31/B/ST10/02498
and 2019/35/O/ST10/02903 (M.S.); Russian Science Foundation
Grant No. 19-14-00102 (Y.A.M.); University of Latvia Grant No.
AAp2016/B041/Zd2016/AZ03 and the Estonian Science Council
grant PRG323 (TrackLag) (N.S. and A.M.); U.S. Geological Survey
Land Change Science/Climate Research & Development Program
(M.J., L.A., and D.W.); German Research Foundation (DFG), grant MA
8083/2e1 (P.M.) and grant BL 563/19e1 (K.H.K.); German Academic
Exchange Service (DAAD), grant no. 57044554, Faculty of Geosciences, University of Münster, and Bavarian University Centre for
Latin America (BAYLAT) (K.H.K.). Records from the Global Charcoal
Database supplemented this work and therefore we would like to
thank the contributors and managers of this open-source resource.
We also thank Annica Greisman, Jennifer Shiller, Fredrik Olsson and
Simon van Bellen for contributing charcoal data to our analyses.
Any use of trade, firm, or product name is for descriptive purposes
only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government


  • Fire
  • Charcoal
  • palaeoenvironments
  • Data analysis
  • North American
  • Europe
  • Patagonia
  • Carbon Balance
  • Drought


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