Paleofire database puts fire-scar and charcoal data online

Prehistoric fire records developed from tree rings and from charcoal in lake sediments are available for free for the first time. All it takes is an Internet connection.

The International Multiproxy Paleofire Database (IMPD) is a cooperative effort between those who reconstruct proxy records of past fire events from tree-ring evidence and from charcoal layers in lake sediments. The database is on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Web site http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/paleo/impd/

The paleofire database grew out of a weeklong workshop in Tucson in spring 2002. The workshop was organized by University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research Director Thomas Swetnam and University of Oregon Professor Cathy Whitlock, a leader in charcoal-based fire history studies. It drew 65 fire ecologists and climatologists who discussed how to merge the two different prehistoric fire records.

"I think the workshop really brought to everyone's attention how much data are available now," Whitlock said. "We're hoping the various labs will be willing and enthusiastic to contribute their data to this international effort."

So far 146 tree-ring records and 4 lake sediment records have been submitted, according to NOAA's Michael Hartman, who helps organize the database. Hartman said he hopes to add another 25 charcoal-based records soon, once he gets permission from the researchers involved.

The database could include more than 450 tree-ring and at least 50 sediment based records published in the North American literature, according to database organizers.

The greatest obstacle is just to get people to submit their published data, Swetnam said. "I think 99.9 percent of fire research is funded with public money," he said. "People need to have the ethic that once they have published, they should submit their data so they are really available to the public."

Some prominent scientific

Contact: Thomas Swetnam
University of Arizona

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