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The Nature and Influence of Fire in Carboniferous Ecosystems

Scott, A. C. and Jones, Timothy Peter 1994. The Nature and Influence of Fire in Carboniferous Ecosystems. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 106 (1-4) , pp. 91-112. 10.1016/0031-0182(94)90005-1

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Fusain occurs widely in Carboniferous coals and sediments. It is now recognised to represent charcoal and be the product of wildfire. The occurrence of fire is partly constrained by atmospheric oxygen levels, availability and nature of fuel and by aspects of climate (rainfall and seasonability in particular). The majority of fires in the Carboniferous were probably started by lightning strikes or by volcanic activity. Experiments on the charring of modern plants has shown that the reflectance of charcoal (and hence fusain) is directly related to temperature of formation. Different fire types may yield fusain assemblages of differing reflectance spectrums, but it may be significant that many modern charcoal assemblages yield only semifusinites (as seen by reflectance microscopy). The significance of these findings is assessed in relation to the use of fusinites and semifusinites as depositional indicators, as interpreted from coal petrology. Fires may have a dramatic effect on ecosystems, not only causing changes in vegetational succession but also severe erosion can occur following a major fire which can be traced in depositional systems. In this paper we document three major Carboniferous sedimentary systems affected by fire: clastic sedimentary systems, using extensive fusain deposits in mid-Lower Carboniferous, near-shore sediments in Donegal, Ireland; volcanic systems using late Early Carboniferous, volcaniclastic sequences in the Midland Valley of Scotland; and coal and coal-bearing sequences in the Upper Carboniferous (Westphalian B) of the Pennine Basin, England. In the later settings the influence of fire in peat formation and succession is assessed. In addition, data on the vegetational composition of charcoal assemblages is considered. It is concluded that fire plays a major role in many Carboniferous ecosystems.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Q Science > Q Science (General)
S Agriculture > SD Forestry
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0031-0182
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 03:29

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