Global Modern Charcoal Dataset (GMCD): A tool for exploring proxy-fire linkages and spatial patterns of biomass burning

Donna Hawthorne*, Colin J. Courtney Mustaphi, Julie C. Aleman, Olivier Blarquez, Daniele Colombaroli, Anne Laure Daniau, Jennifer R. Marlon, Mitchell Power, Boris Vannière, Yongming Han, Stijn Hantson, Natalie Kehrwald, Brian Magi, Xu Yue, Christopher Carcaillet, Ayodele Ogunkoya, Esther N. Githumbi, Rebecca M. Muriuki, Robert Marchant

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Progresses in reconstructing Earth's history of biomass burning has motivated the development of a modern charcoal dataset covering the last decades through a community-based initiative called the Global Modern Charcoal Dataset (GMCD). As the frequency, intensity and spatial scale of fires are predicted to increase regionally and globally in conjunction with changing climate, anthropogenic activities and land-use patterns, there is an increasing need to further understand, calibrate and interrogate recent and past fire regimes as related to changing fire emissions and changing carbon sources and sinks. Discussions at the PAGES Global Paleofire Working Group workshop 2015, including paleoecologists, numerical modelers, statisticians, paleoclimatologists, archeologists, and anthropologists, identified an urgent need for an open, standardized, quality-controlled and globally representative dataset of modern sedimentary charcoal and other sediment-based fire proxies. This dataset fits into a gap between metrics of biomass burning indicators, current fire regimes and land cover, and carbon emissions inventories. The dataset will enable the calibration of paleofire data with other modern datasets including: data of satellite derived fire occurrence, vegetation patterns and species diversity, land cover change, and a range of sources capturing biochemical cycling. Standardized protocols are presented for collecting and analyzing sediment-based fire proxies, including charcoal, levoglucosan, black carbon, and soot. The GMCD will provide a publically-accessible repository of modern fire sediment surface samples in all terrestrial ecosystems. Sample collection and contributions to the dataset will be solicited from lacustrine, peat, marine, glacial, or other sediments, from a wide variety of ecosystems and geographic locations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-17
Number of pages15
JournalQuaternary International
Early online date31 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This initiative emerged from convergent discussions of a modern charcoal dataset and proxy fire methodologies from multiple research groups who met at the PAGES Global Paleofire Working Group meeting held at Harvard Forest, 29 September-2 October 2015. The modern charcoal dataset is part of the new Global Charcoal Database (GCD) developed by the PAGES GPWG and supported by The Region Bourgogne Franche-Comt? and the OREAS project (OSU Theta, Universit? de Franche-Comt?) (2013C-09405). Support for the workshop and participant travel came from the Past Global Changes (PAGES) Global Paleofire Working Group ( and the National Science Foundation Geography and Spatial Sciences program grants BCS-1437074 and BCS-1436496 to JRM and BM. ALD is supported by the project PICS CNRS 06484. CCM and EG were supported by a European Commission Marie Curie Initial Training Network grant to RM (FP7-PEOPLE-2013-ITN project number 606879). SH acknowledges support by the EU FP7 projects BACCHUS (grant agreement no. 603445) and LUC4C (grant ag. no. 603542).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA


  • Biomass burning
  • Calibration
  • Dataset
  • Standardized methodologies
  • Surface sample
  • Vegetation

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