Scientists have discovered the oldest wildfires found through the 430-million-year-old charcoal deposits from Wales and Poland. They provide valuable insight into life on Earth during the Silurian period.
At that point, plant life would have relied heavily on water to develop and perhaps wouldn’t have occurred in dry regions for most of the year. The wildfires that are talked about in the study would have burned through very short vegetation.
The researchers explain that the landscape must have been influenced not by trees but by the historical fungus -Prototaxites. Not too much is realized about the fungus, but it’s believed to have been eligible to grow as tall as nine meters.
“It looks now as though our evidence of fire coincides closely with our evidence of the earliest land plant macrofossils,” explains paleobotanist Ian Glasspool from Colby College in Maine.
“So as soon as there’s fuel, at least in the form of plant macrofossils, there is wildfire pretty much instantly.”
The researchers explain that the fires were competent to propagate and leave charcoal residues, suggesting that Earth’s atmospheric oxygen levels were at least 16 percent.
That level has come up to 21 percent, but it has differed dramatically throughout Earth’s history.
“At points in time that we’re sampling windows of, there was enough biomass around to provide us with a record of wildfire that we can identify and use to pinpoint the vegetation and process in time. ” Explains paleontologist Robert Gastaldo, who is also from Colby College.