Climatic control of the biomass-burning decline in the Americas after ad 1500

M. J. Power, F. E. Mayle, P. J. Bartlein, J. R. Marlon, R. S. Anderson, H. Behling, K. J. Brown, C. Carcaillet, D. Colombaroli, D. G. Gavin, D. J. Hallett, S. P. Horn, L. M. Kennedy, C. S. Lane, C. J. Long, P. I. Moreno, C. Paitre, G. Robinson, Z. Taylor, M. K. Walsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


The significance and cause of the decline in biomass burning across the Americas after ad 1500 is a topic of considerable debate. We synthesized charcoal records (a proxy for biomass burning) from the Americas and from the remainder of the globe over the past 2000 years, and compared these with paleoclimatic records and population reconstructions. A distinct post-ad 1500 decrease in biomass burning is evident, not only in the Americas, but also globally, and both are similar in duration and timing to 'Little Ice Age' climate change. There is temporal and spatial variability in the expression of the biomass-burning decline across the Americas but, at a regional-continental scale, 'Little Ice Age' climate change was likely more important than indigenous population collapse in driving this decline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-13
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013


  • 'Little Ice Age'
  • biomass burning
  • charcoal
  • climate
  • human population

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Archaeology
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


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