Climate Futures

Climate Futures



Speaker: Professor Sandy P. Harrison

When: 20th Jun 2011
Location: Building E6A Room 102
Audience: Academics, staff and students

Abstract: The interactions between climate, vegetation, fire regimes and people are complex. The direct observational record is short and does not encompass the climate or environmental changes of the magnitude expected to occur over the 21st century. Recalcitrant charcoal, preserved in anoxic lake or bog sediments, provides regionally-resolved records of changing fire regimes on decadal/centennial, millennial and glacial-interglacial timescales. The Global Palaeofire Working Group (GPWG) has compiled charcoal records from several hundred sites across the globe. These records show that climate is the dominant control on biomass burning even during recent centuries. Changes in temperature influence fire more strongly than changes in rainfall, with increases in temperature leading to increased fire. Fire regimes respond to rapid climate warming immediately, but more slowly to climate cooling even when this is rapid. Analyses of the GPWG data often contradict widely held beliefs about past and present fire regimes. The challenge is to incorporate the insights gained from these analyses into assessments of future risks, predictions of future changes and fire management.

Bio: Professor Sandy Harrison works on the two-way interactions between climate and the terrestrial biosphere, using palaeoenvironmental records and earth-system modelling in combination to understand the mechanisms that bring about climate and environmental changes. She leads the IGBP Cross-Project Initiative on Fire and is co-chair of the Global Palaeofire Working Group. As co-chair of the Palaeoclimate Modelling Intercomparison Project (PMIP) she is active in evaluating how well the climate models that are used to predict the future perform when asked to simulate the known responses to changes in climate forcing during the geologic past. Her personal mission is to ensure that the adage “the past is the key to the future” is turned into a quantitative guide to understanding and managing global change.

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