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Extraordinary biomass-burning episode and impact winter triggered by the Younger Dryas cosmic impact


Wendy Wolbach, Joanne Ballard, Paul Mayewski, Andrew Parnell, Niamh Cahill, Victor Adedeji, Ted Bunch, Gabriela Domínguez-Vázquez, Jon Erlandson, Richard Firestone, Timothy French, George Howard, Isabel Israde-Alcántara, John Johnson, David Kimbel, Charles Kinzie, Andrei Kurbatov, Gunther Kletetschka, Malcolm LeCompte, William Mahaney, Adrian Melott, Siddhartha Mitra, Abigail Maiorana-Boutilier, Christopher Moore, Wi

Publication Type: 
Refereed Original Article
Part 1 of this study investigated evidence of biomass burning in global ice records, and here we continue to test the hypothesis that an impact event at the Younger Dryas boundary (YDB) caused an anomalously intense episode of biomass burning at ∼12.8 ka on a multicontinental scale (North and South America, Europe, and Asia). Quantitative analyses of charcoal and soot records from 152 lakes, marine cores, and terrestrial sequences reveal a major peak in biomass burning at the Younger Dryas (YD) onset that appears to be the highest during the latest Quaternary. For the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary (K-Pg) impact event, concentrations of soot were previously utilized to estimate the global amount of biomass burned, and similar measurements suggest that wildfires at the YD onset rapidly consumed ∼10 million km2 of Earth’s surface, or ∼9% of Earth’s biomass, considerably more than for the K-Pg impact. Bayesian analyses and age regressions demonstrate that ages for YDB peaks in charcoal and soot across four continents are synchronous with the ages of an abundance peak in platinum in the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 (GISP2) ice core and of the YDB impact event (12,835–12,735 cal BP). Thus, existing evidence indicates that the YDB impact event caused an anomalously large episode of biomass burning, resulting in extensive atmospheric soot/dust loading that triggered an “impact winter.” This, in turn, triggered abrupt YD cooling and other climate changes, reinforced by climatic feedback mechanisms, including Arctic sea ice expansion, rerouting of North American continental runoff, and subsequent ocean circulation changes.
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Publication Status: 
Date Accepted for Publication: 
Thursday, 14 September, 2017
Publication Date: 
Volume 126, Number 2 | March 2018 The Journal of Geology
National University of Ireland, Dublin (UCD)
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