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  • Periodic Report Summary 3 - COEVOLVE (From Forest to Farmland and Meadow to Metropolis: What Role for Humans in Explaining the Enigma of Holocene CO2 and Methane Concentrations?)
ERC

COEVOLVE Report Summary

Project ID: 313797
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Switzerland

Periodic Report Summary 3 - COEVOLVE (From Forest to Farmland and Meadow to Metropolis: What Role for Humans in Explaining the Enigma of Holocene CO2 and Methane Concentrations?)

The Holocene record of atmospheric CO2 and methane concentrations is an enigma. Concentrations of both gases increased from the beginning of the epoch 11,700 years ago to about 10,000 BP, then declined for several thousand years, but by 6000 BP, concentrations of both gases were steadily increasing again. This mid-late Holocene rise in greenhouse gases is unusual; similar patterns are not observed during previous interglacials. While various mechanisms have been proposed to explain these changes in Holocene CO2 and methane, there is one undisputed feature of this epoch that we know is different from the rest of Earth history: the existence of behaviorally modern humans. How humanity could have influenced the Holocene increase in CO2 and methane concentrations is the subject of the COEVOLVE project.

During the first 20 months of work on the COEVOLVE project, we assembled a highly interdisciplinary team of researchers, including archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, paleoclimatologists, and earth system modelers. Working together, we developed a novel methodology for representing global anthropogenic land cover change historically in the period before the industrial revolution. We recognized that culture, religion, political organization and other social aspects strongly influence land use patterns in ways that cannot be predicted on the basis of environment alone. We set out to classify and map the way people used land in the past, all over the world. The maps we are developing will form an online atlas – the COEVOLVE Atlas – that illustrates the way land use patterns changed with time.

The next half of the project is dedicated to applying the knowledge about past land use patterns synthesized in the COEVOLVE Atlas into a quantitative model of anthropogenic land cover change. This model will allow us to simulate the emissions of CO2 and methane that were caused by humans over the preindustrial Holocene, and ultimately to crack the mystery of the anomalous rise in these greenhouse gas concentrations, long before the Industrial Revolution.

Reported by

UNIVERSITE DE LAUSANNE
Switzerland
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