Cretaceous oceanic anoxic event 2 (OAE2) is thought to have been contemporary with extensive volcanism and the release of large quantities of volcanic CO2 capable of triggering marine anoxia through a series of biogeochemical feedbacks. High-resolution reconstructions of atmospheric CO2 concentrations across the initiation of OAE2 suggest that there were also two distinct pulses of CO2 drawdown coeval with increased organic carbon burial. These fluctuations in CO2 likely led to significant climatic changes, including fluctuations in temperatures and the hydrological cycle. Paleofire proxy records suggest that wildfire was a common occurrence throughout the Cretaceous Period, likely fueled by the estimated high atmospheric O2 concentrations at this time. However, over geological time scales, the likelihood and behavior of fire are also controlled by other factors such as climate, implying that CO2-driven climate changes should also be observable in the fossil charcoal record.
We tested this hypothesis and present a high-resolution study of fire history through the use of fossil charcoal abundances across the OAE2 onset, and we compared our records to the estimated CO2 fluctuations published from the same study sites. Our study illustrates that inferred wildfire activity appears to relate to changes in CO2 occurring across the onset of OAE2, where periods of CO2 drawdown may have enabled an increase in fire activity through suppression of the hydrological cycle. Our study provides further insight into the relationships between rapid changes in the carbon cycle, climate, and wildfire activity, illustrating that CO2 and climate changes related to inferred wildfire activity can be detected despite the estimated high Cretaceous atmospheric O2 concentrations.