Global Paleofire Working Group 2


The Global Paleofire Working Group 2 (GPWG2) was active from 2016 to 2019. It developed and analysed fire history records using the Global Charcoal Database (GCD) in order to understand what controls fire and its impacts on a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. The group employed diverse data sources, an open-access database, statistical tools, and models.



- Understand how and why fire history has varied in different biomes since the last glacial period.
- Identify best practices for using fire history data to inform modern risk assessment and management practices.
- Use data and models to understand how changing disturbance regimes alter species composition and distributions under changing climate and land-use conditions.
- Integrate diverse datasets and models to understand how human activities and climate changes shape and respond to changing fire patterns.

Key findings

- Fire has generally increased as global temperatures have warmed since the Last Glacial period, especially in temperate latitudes.
- The spatial expression of burning has become much more variable throughout the Holocene, as humans increasingly altered fire regimes.
- A key challenge for scientists using sediment-based fire-history reconstructions is to conduct more calibration studies, so that fire history changes can be better quantified.


Chair: Boris Vannière (CNRS, Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté, France)
Co-chair: Jennifer Marlon (Yale University, USA)




Vannière B, Blarquez O, Rius D, Doyen E, Brücher T, Colombaroli D, Connor S, Feurdean A, Hickler T, Lemmen C, Leys B, Massa C & Olofsson J (2016) 7000-year human legacy of elevation-dependent European fire regimes. Quaternary Science Reviews 132: 206–212, DOI:10.1016/j.quascirev.2015.11.012 (link)
Marlon JR, Kelly R, Daniau A-L, Vannière B, Power MJ, Bartlein P, Higuera P, Blarquez O, Brewer S, Brücher T, Feurdean A, Gil Romera G, Iglesias V, Maezumi SY, Magi B, Courtney Mustaphi CJ & Zhihai T (2016) Reconstructions of biomass burning from sediment-charcoal records to improve data–model comparisons , Biogeosciences 13 (11): 3225-3244, DOI:10.5194/bg-13-3225-2016 (link)

The Global Paleofire Working Group 2 was active from 2016 to 2019. It was an extension of the first phase of the Global Paleofire Working Group, which ran from 2008 to 2015.

In the past decade, the Global Paleofire Working Group (GPWG) developed and analyzed fire history records using the Global Charcoal Database (GCD, see below), which advanced our understanding of the controls and impacts of fire in the Earth system on a wide range of spatial and temporal scales.

Late Quaternary trends in fire have primarily been attributed to natural climate variability and vegetation changes associated with changes in net primary productivity, but the contribution of different aspects of climate and vegetation change, especially at regional scales and on multi-decadal to centennial time scales, remains poorly understood, as do the varied roles of humans in shaping past fire regimes.

Phase 2 of the GPWG (GPWG2) shifted this focus to understanding the linkages between fires, climate-driven fuel changes, traditional human land uses, modern landscape management, and biodiversity conservation.

The GPWG2 mission was to use crowd-sourced data collection, analysis with open-source tools, hypothesis testing, and "natural" and model experiments. It engaged paleofire experts, fire modelers, and fire practitioners through projects and workshops to identify key questions and approaches that prioritized science in support of sustainability, and that provided evidence and insights for understanding and managing fire under rapidly changing global conditions.

The Science outcomes emerging from the GPWG included the creation of the public-access Global Charcoal Database and an international research community with multiple-authored papers describing observed spatiotemporal changes in fire at global and regional scales (e.g. time series and maps).

To find out more, go to the GPWG2 external website here.

Policy Brief: Informing fire policy and biodiversity conservation

2019 was an exceptional year for highly devastating, catastrophic fires. The destructive Amazon rainforest and Australian fires received worldwide media attention, raising debates about the causes and consequences of future wildfires in a warmer world.

Members of GPWG2, together with another 30 international colleagues, released a Policy Brief in December 2019 discussing how the integration of traditional ecological knowledge and long-term ecology could better support the evidence base for future decisions on fire policy and biodiversity conservation.

This Policy Brief resulted from a previous PAGES workshop hosted by the Geography Department at Royal Holloway University of London, UK, and supported by PAGES, the Quaternary Research Association (QRA), and CNRS/Université de Franche-Comté. The workshop attracted 30 international participants from 15 countries to discuss ongoing challenges on biodiversity conservation and fire policy at a global scale.

Read the Future Earth article about the Policy Brief here.

For more information, contact Daniele Colombaroli.

Follow GPWG2 on Twitter: @PaleofireWG; @diverse_k


gpwg2 fire1

Figure 1: Forest burning in Guatemala, 2005, to open land for cattle. Photo credit: Boris Vannière.

The Global Charcoal Database

The aim of the Global Charcoal Database (GCD) is to provide the scientific community with a global paleofire dataset for research and archiving sedimentary records of fire. Global syntheses have enabled the examination of broad-scale patterns in palaeofire activity, created a framework for exploring the linkages among fire, climate and vegetation at centennial-to-multi-millennial time scales and allows evaluation of fire model simulations at regional to global scales.

Further information

Contact the group via email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and visit the webpage of the continuing project, International Paleofire Network, here.

Follow the group on Twitter:

Upcoming special issue of Fire

Members of PAGES Global Paleofire Working Group 2 will guest edit a new special issue of the journal Fire which will be due for release in 2020.

Julie Aleman, Olivier Blarquez and Boris Vannière collected articles dealing with human modification of fire regimes, human fire management and practices, and the various processes associated with this relationship at temporal scales ranging from millennia to decades. Articles dealing with aboriginal fire uses, assessment of long-term influence of different societies on fire regimes and how this knowledge could be used for restoration, conservation or management of ecosystems will be included.

More information: