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New World post-pandemic reforestation helped start Little Ice Age, say Stanford scientists
Date:12/18/2008

o convert it to cropland, as agricultural practices spread among the human population-until around 500 years ago: At that point, there was a precipitous drop in the amount of charcoal in the samples, coinciding with the precipitous drop in the human population in the Americas.

To verify their results, they checked their fire histories based on the charcoal data against records of carbon dioxide concentrations and carbon isotope ratios that were available.

"We looked at ice cores and tropical sponge records, which give us reliable proxies for the carbon isotope composition of atmospheric carbon dioxide. And it jumped out at us right away," Nevle said. "We saw a conspicuous increase in the isotope ratio of heavy carbon to light carbon. That gave us a sense that maybe we were looking at the right thing, because that is exactly what you would expect from reforestation."

During photosynthesis, plants prefer carbon dioxide containing the lighter isotope of carbon. Thus a massive reforestation event would not only decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but would also leave carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that was enriched in the heavy carbon isotope.

Other theories have been proposed to account for the cooling at the time of the Little Ice Age, as well as the anomalies in the concentration and carbon isotope ratios of atmospheric carbon dioxide associated with that period.

Variations in the amount of sunlight striking the Earth, caused by a drop in sunspot activity, could also be a factor in cooling down the globe, as could a flurry of volcanic activity in the late 16th century.

But the timing of these events doesn't fit with the observed onset of the carbon dioxide drop. These events don't begin until at least a century after carbon dioxide in the atmosphere began to decline and the ratio of heavy to light carbon isotopes in atmospheric carbon dioxide begins to increase.

Nevle and Bird don'
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Contact: Louis Bergeron
louisb3@stanford.edu
650-725-1944
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert

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