Human activities affected the Earth's atmosphere long before it was believed

Current atmospheric carbon levels are based on the rate recorded from the industrial period, when a considerable amount of pollution was dumped into the air. However, a new study conducted in Antarctica revealed that human activity caused a substantial increase in black carbon long before that. The research also links ancient burning practices in the lands of the Maori people in New Zealand, which largely affected the southern hemisphere, around 660 years ago.

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The survey, conducted by the Desert Research Institute (DRI), collected about six samples of localized ice cores in the southernmost part of the planet — Antarctica. An in-depth analysis of them showed a significant increase in black carbon starting in the 14th century, well before the beginning of the industrial period, which began around the 18th century. This type of carbon is associated with wood or biomass burning.

(Image: Reproduction/Jack Triest/DRI)

According to the researchers, this pollution probably came from fires fueled by natural biomass. In the following 660 years, ice samples indicated a continuous increase in emission levels, tripling the value. Furthermore. Modeling the potential flux of black carbon particles took scientists to Tasmania, Patagonia or New Zealand.

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Although Tasmania and Patagonia have been First colonized, it was not until the late 13th century, when the Maori people arrived in New Zealand, that records of black carbon began to appear in the ice of Antarctica. Soot records from island countries have confirmed this timeline, suggesting that fires in New Zealand were the cause of the large-scale distribution of these particles.

DRI Atmospheric Scientist Joseph McConnell, The study’s lead author said the idea that humans caused a major change in this period of history through land “cleaning” activities is surprising. This is because, until then, it was thought that, before the Industrial Revolution, impacts by human action were irrelevant.

Record of black carbon in the last 2.25 years (Image: Reproduction/DRI)

The discovery also revealed that our ability to change environments is not a novelty of modernity. Everything indicates that New Zealand was the last piece of land to be inhabited by humans. When the Maori people settled there, the vegetation cover corresponded to 700% of the territory; today, that index is only %. Researchers believe that while people were clearing native forests, lack of experience with fire fueled the destruction.

Ice cores have shown to be part of the black carbon from burning in New Zealand reached Antarctica. They also indicated that emission would have peaked around the 16th century, reaching about 33 thousand tons per annum. In 660, global CO2 emissions reached gigatonnes.

The study also gained traction with a recent survey, which found that intense deforestation in New Zealand by the Maori people , even affected a number of insect species. Some of them lost the ability to fly, since the vegetation was reduced — adaptation to the environment is a matter of survival.

The research was published on October 6th, in the journal Nature .

Source: ScienceAlert, DRI

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