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Fire Interactions with Life on Earth (Project FILE)
Start date: Oct 1, 2010, End date: Sep 30, 2012 PROJECT  FINISHED 

The objective of Project FILE (Fire Interactions with Life on Earth) is to investigate the likely effects of predicted climate change on forest fire activity. Models predict a 44% increase in forest fires annually in America with a 61% increase in Canada, whilst fire seasons in boreal, temperate and Mediterranean regions will be prolonged in response to global warming. However, most predictions are based on outputs from numerical models and observed links between global warming and fire activity are essential for assessing future fire risk. This research will provide such sorely needed data by studying periods of past climate change in Earth history. Project FILE will focus on 3 key warming events: the mid-Pliocene (~3.3 million years ago (Ma)), the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (~55 Ma) and the Triassic-Jurassic Boundary (~200 Ma). Relationships between global warming and fire activity will be examined by: (1) compiling records of ancient fire activity using fossil charcoal abundance; (2) linking fire activity to records of vegetation change across these events; (3) assessing changes in vegetation for their flammable properties. The size, shape, density and connectivity of fossil leaves will be quantified, as these characters are known to control flammability. Modern analogues of the ancient plants will be subject to combustion experiments using state-of-the-art fire propagation apparatus. These experiments will test for differences in flammability between ecologically dominant plants, and will be undertaken in both modern and ancient atmospheric gas compositions. Project FILE will provide data that address key concerns in the European Climate Change Programme II: Impacts and Adaptation, and The European Commission’s April 2009 policy paper on “Adapting to Climate Change”. It targets the research goals of FP7’s “Environment” category and aims to help the EU cope with the effects of climate change and the associated sustainable environmental management demands.
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