The environmental impact of fossil-fuel burning since the Industrial Revolution is a well-known fact.
But could it be that man-made fires have influenced their environment since the very dawn of civilization?
According to recent paleoclimatic studies, 7000 and 5000 years ago the rate of carbon dioxide, methane and greenhouse gases rapidly increased, instead of decreasing as would have been expected in comparable climatic conditions. The still controversial hypothesis is that this increase took place in conjunction with the development of human settlements, and in particular with the deforestation by fire of large areas needed for agricultural purposes.
The Early Human Impact (EHI) Project, funded by the European Research Council and headed by prof. Carlo Barbante (Ca' Foscari University, Venice, Italy), aims to verify this hypothesis by reconstructing the history of man-made fires through an analysis of ice cores and lake sediments. These are retrieved from sites which correspond with the centres of the origin of agriculture, across seven continents, and are analyzed by means of a ground-breaking technique pioneered by the EHI research group: a globally present molecular marker called levoglucosan, used for identifying and measuring the history of biomass burning in ice cores and lake sediments.