Geology | Forget the ice age, we are living in the third phase of the fire season – natural fires have now been overshadowed by fossil fuels

Pyro. It was burning and burning, the whole turn of the year.

At Christmas, a church burned down in Rautjärvi. At the end of 2022, pyrotechnicians will shoot fireworks into the sky all over the world, especially at midnight.

The sky was filled with fire, smoke and smoke one time zone at a time, also in Helsinki.

Fire is also a part of nature with lightning and forest fires. Wildfires shaped landscapes before humans, already millions of years ago.

Studied fire all his life Stephen Pyne suggests a word pyrocene into geological history, into one geological epoch.

Like the Holocene, which started after the last ice age, or the anthropocenewhich has been proposed as a period describing the modern era.

There is controversy as to when this era of human influence began.

The proposal for pyrocene does not seem to go through, but Pyne insightfully emphasizes the importance of fire instead of the familiar ice ages.

The word pyro comes from Greek. Fri means fire, or the fire of the grave.

According to Pyne, the history of life on Earth can be described in terms of three periods of fire, or the Pyrocene period.

From periods of fire the first pyrocene is the period of natural fire.

According to Pyne, it appeared as soon as plants conquered the continents, about 420 million years ago. The lightning burned the driest of the vegetation here and there and shaped meadows, savannas and forests.

The second fire age was spread by the distant Ancestors of modern man between the ice ages. That’s how it started two million years ago.

The use of fire then quickly spread throughout the world with our distant ancestors. Food was cooked with the help of fire. Torches and fire sticks kept the beasts at bay.

The fire brought warmth. Human Ancestors also learned how to burn. Man could no longer survive without fire.

A forest fire is raging in Nairobi, Kenya. In addition to natural fires, there are many man-made fires.

Third the fire season is going on now. Man burns what is taken from the soil petrified biomass, fossil fuels.

Fire became a human tool more than 200 years ago, after the enlightenment and the steam engine. Now man controls the burning.

There are, for example, millions of different furnaces on Earth, ranging from internal combustion engines to blast furnaces.

In the third fire season, man gets strength from fire. The consequences will inevitably affect nature and ecology.

By burning fossils, we already affect the geological time scale, because the consequences of burning are visible in the atmosphere for a long time.

In the future, we will no longer be able to break away easily from the magic circle of fire. Fire is our destiny.

This one Pyne presents quite an unusual world history in his book Pyrocene: How we created the age of fire and what happens after that. When the book was published in 2021, it was a bestseller in the United States.

Pyne is Emeritus Professor of Ecology at Arizona State University. He has not only studied, but also tended fire himself for a long time.

He was, after all, a member of the United States The Grand Canyon rescuers in the national park fire department for no less than 15 years 1967–1981.

After that, he still planned fire safety for the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone National Parks.

In fire safety, if there is a close relationship with fire. As a researcher, Pyne pondered the effects of fire for a long time. He used for the first time the term “pyrocene” in his 2015 essay The Fire Age.

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In it, he proposed geological periods of fire in Earth’s history, which also led to a book about fire.

People have always cleared fields on the slopes of extinct volcanoes because the ash produces good crops.

In the wild fire is created by lightning. There are enough of them. Every moment, around 44,000 thunderstorms are raging on Earth.

Lightning also occurs on other planets, at least on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Venus.

But do lightnings start fires there, or burn grasses?

Hardly. The oxygen necessary for fire is also scarce in other celestial bodies.

There are probably no creatures on other planets or moons that know how to use fire to their advantage. We are, and were, together with fire, unique in this corner of space.

For certain it is to the advantage of plants that in a sea of ​​fire they burn faster than other nearby plants.

When the seeds and new plants of such a plant emerge from the nutritious ash after a fire, they do better than others.

With a torch or a stick of fire in his hands, man spread out over the earth and took over farmlands for himself. In Australia, for example, the aborigines controlled their environment through burning.

People have always cleared fields on the slopes of extinct volcanoes because the ash produces good crops.

Depending on the method of calculation, almost half of the world’s ecoregions are still dependent on fire in some way, according to Pyne. According to Pyne, 20–40 percent of the Earth’s biota live on lands that have been burned.

A flame burns in an oil refinery in Britain, which is a so-called safety flare. It burns excess gases.

Industrial burning is much more violent than lightning, Aboriginal fire use or agricultural burning.

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In the third fire season, wood began to be replaced by coal and then oil and gas. Coal has twice as much energy per unit weight as dry wood.

Fuel and fuel cylinder are human tools. By burning we get energy. It is a guarantee of well-being and increased mobility.

IN THE 18TH CENTURY the steam engine was invented, which set in motion a huge change. We are still on that path.

According to Pyne, the whole earth is figuratively heating up and raging, too fast.

Now it is urgent to consider how the third and fiercest phase of the pyrocene can be turned to the benefit of humanity and the Earth.

Pyne suggests that we leave a large part of the fossils for saving underground. The solar, wind and hydrogen economy could perhaps make it possible.

Pyne says that we will need these stored fossil fuels in the distant future when the next ice age finally looms. Earth’s history shows that it inevitably will eventually.

By precisely burning fossils, we could control the climate if the ice age progresses too quickly for humans and nature.

Source: Stephen Pyne: How We Created the Age of Fire and What Happens After. Terra Cognita 2022, translated into Finnisht Kimmo Pietiläinen.

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