Ancient fires hold clues for future conditions

Digging into the ancient mud reveals clues to climate

  • Feb. 4, 2015 10:00 a.m.

Dr. Kendrick Brown of the Pacific Fiorestry Centre points to a 2 cm layer of 7

Travis Paterson

Black Press

In the wilderness of a remote South Island lake, Kendrick Brown leans over the boat’s edge and drives a hollow tube into the soft lakebed sediment below.

What he pulls out, one metre at a time, is a historical timeline embedded in layers of organic and non-organic matter. It tells him about the past, and helps paint a picture of what’s to come.

“They’re nature’s archives: stratigraphic sequences in the mud that read like pages in a book,” says Brown, a research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service.

“Basically, the same mud that you sink your toes into during a summer swim is the cover of the book, a recording of history of the region based on the matter that has settled into the lake floor.”

Brown’s project team is based out of the Pacific Forestry Centre in Saanich and includes research technician Nicholas Conder, Nicholas Hebda, and University of Victoria co-op student Kiera Smith. While the focus is on the past, the results can help inform about the future.

The team’s current focus is on sediment cores collected from the Greater Victoria Water Supply Area, namely from Begbie Lake and the Sooke Lake Reservoir.

Brown is examining records from these lakes because paleoclimate indicators suggest the past time interval known as the early Holocene (11,700-7,000 years ago) was warmer and drier compared to present-day.

Scientists hope the data may serve as a first-order reference to what future conditions may be like if induced by climate change.

There are models suggesting temperatures in southern B.C. may increase 2-3 degrees C by 2100, he said.

Extracting pollen and charcoal fragments from the lake sediment cores allows the team to assess how vegetation and fire disturbance have changed through time in response to “various forcing mechanisms,” Brown said.

“We now have a sense of how the fire regime has changed in the Sooke Lake Reservoir catchment throughout the Holocene (period) and will be informing the CRD about the natural variability of fire events within the water supply catchment,” he said. “We’re now working to understand how vegetation in the catchment has changed through time, the signal of which is contained in abundant fossil pollen grains in the sediment.”

The forestry scientists have teamed up with the CRD because the regional body need to know about fire risk to water supply, Brown said.

“We’re using nature’s archives to learn how the land responded to past changes in climate and identifying past periods that might be analogues for the future,” he said.

Are future generations of the South Islanders destined to live in a fire-prone region? Not quite, but fire disturbance may increase in the future.

“We need to plan for and protect against this risk. While fire is not a common form of disturbance today, it was more prevalent in the past,” Brown said.

That plan is still a few years off. The team is hoping to produce an initial report of findings by the end of 2016.

Just Posted

Victoria teen killed on field trip near Sooke

Second youth also injured in falling tree incident at Camp Barnard

UPDATE: Firefighters bring Sooke wildfire under control

Firefighters have a wildfire that burned an area about 100x150 feet at… Continue reading

Oak Bay double murder trial: Blood splatter analyst says no shoe prints found in unit

RCMP analyst testifies to smears, fingermarks, ‘swipe and wipe’ patterns around apartment

Sooke club gets kicks out of karate

Sooke Martial Arts Association provides unique sports outlet

Langford has ‘no plans’ to make changes to Western Speedway after noise complaints

Flyer passed out to residents voices concerns over racetrack noise

VIDEO: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ to be re-released with new footage

‘Avatar’ holds global box office record at $2.788 billion, while ‘Endgame’ stands at $2.743 billion…

Elias Pettersson wins Calder Trophy as NHL’s top rookie

Vancouver forward first Canuck to win award since Pavel Bure in 1992

FVRD chair calls B.C. incineration plan for Philippines waste ‘disturbing’

Metro Vancouver ‘uniquely capable’ of safely disposing of waste coming back to Canada, say officials

VIDEO: Acknowledging skeptics, finance minister vows to build Trans Mountain project

Bill Morneau said he recognizes ‘huge amount of anxiety’ in Calgary over future of oil and gas sector

Shovels could be in the ground on Trans Mountain by September, CEO says

Ian Anderson points to weeks likely required for NEB to reinstate 2016 regulatory record

RCMP allows officers to grow beards

Members can now wear beards and goatees, as long as they’re neatly groomed

Sooke’s new library construction a sad tale

Reader says if the public library project was in the private sector, heads would roll

Girl, 10, poisoned by carbon monoxide at B.C. campsite could soon return home

Lucille Beaurain died and daughter Micaela Walton, 10, was rushed to B.C. Children’s Hospital on May 18

30 years later: B.C. woman uses sidewalk chalk to reclaim site of her sexual assault

Vancouver woman didn’t think her powerful story, written in chalk, would ignite such support

Most Read