20.07 - 22.07.2018  
Nairobi, Kenya
Contact person:
Julie Aleman, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

PAGES' Global Paleofire Working Group 2 (GPWG2) will hold a workshop at the Nairobi National Museum, Nairobi, Kenya, from 20-22 July 2018.

Titled "African Fire History and Fire Ecology: Building Understanding and Capacity through Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange", the workshop is open to 50 participants, with at least 25 places reserved for attendees from African institutions.


Knowledge transfers, professional training and capacity building, network development, data collection and dissemination, thematic innovation, project emergence, fieldwork facilitation and project operationalization.


Africa is often referred to as the "fire continent" due to the regular and widespread occurrence of vegetation fires. Paleofire research and science application in Africa emerged as key issues and high priority needs by the international scientific community during the recent cross-disciplinary workshop on "paleofire data-model comparison" at Harvard Forest (Sept. 2015) and on "Fire history baseline by Biome" in Bordeaux (Sept. 2016).

GPWG2 comprises four cross-cutting initiatives including "geographical challenges". The workshop planned here is the first workshop specifically intended to improve our scientific knowledge of African fire history, to be hosted in Africa, and to recruit African researchers in particular. The "geographical challenge" is a critical point in the development of the GPWG2 network and scientific activities, because of the vital role that fire management in Africa plays with respect to human development, biodiversity and the global climate system.

More important than simply expanding coverage of the global charcoal database is the ability to extract meaningful information and address key questions about fire history in Africa. Two major challenges are emerging from recent and ongoing GPWG2 global syntheses of fire: 1) local, regional, continental, and global fire history must be connected to and understood in relation to modern fire data and activities, and 2) understanding the dominant controls of fire (e.g. climate, vegetation and humans) during the late Quaternary in each region is highly dependent on collaborative, interdisciplinary research. Indeed, to propose a long-term global biomass burning reconstruction that is comparable with remote sensing or modelled fire related data, it is essential to have accurate representations of both global and regional spatio-temporal variability in fire.

Africa poses a particularly critical gap in our knowledge of fire history at this time. Regional fire workshops will build a strong network of researchers and managers focused on fire at different temporal and spatial scales (paleoecologists, archaeologists, historians, modern ecologists, agronomists, etc.) and identify laboratories that can act as hubs to disseminate methodologies, materials and training to other facilities. The workshop will have a significant capacity-building component and it is hoped that it will inspire new work on paleofire across the continent.

Workshop overview

Fire in Africa is used by people for different forms of land uses (agriculture, breeding, hunting…) and remains a dominant tool for land management in protected and non-protected areas. Future rainfall changes may strongly impact regional fire regimes with nonlinear responses from the moist Afromontane forest to savanna grasslands.

Moreover, human-modified fire regimes are widely considered by scientists to contribute to tropical ecosystem degradation, largely because fires can catastrophically transform forest ecosystems. The last IPCC report recommends decreasing the use of fire in savannas to avoid fire propagation and uncontrolled mega-event within adjacent forests. These recommendations, however, lack information about the socio-environmental role of fire and about the long-term functioning of fire in African forest and savanna ecosystems. Long-term fire records are thus urgently needed to understand future interactions of climate, vegetation and land use in tropical areas, and the extent to which future fire regimes will affect ecosystem health, ecosystem services and the global carbon balance.

Compared to extratropical regions, charcoal data from the tropics, and in particular Africa, are still very scarce, or limited by chronological and taphonomical issues which hamper their interpretation. As a result, there is little information about past trends in biomass burning, and about the way paleorecords in tropical areas can be used to inform ecosystem management and conservation.


The objectives of this workshop are:

1) Assess available proxy for past biomass burning (sediment and soil charcoal, tree-rings, bio-markers but also historic documents) to summarize our current understanding of the long-term functioning and role of fire in Africa by spatial and temporal analyses of available data.

2) Develop a capacity building network for African scientists in order to develop the systematic analysis of charcoal during sediment cores by considering:

(i) the different methodology,
(ii) available calibration and other geospatial analyses,
(iii) statistical framework, and
(iv) identification of key areas for future studies.

3) Promote dissemination of Africa fire history and long-term fire ecology. Discuss the ways in which paleofire data shed light on current management and policy decisions. The working group will explore weather fire is a tool or a threat across various ecological and social spaces.

Tentative schedule

Day 1: Capacity building and knowledge transfer
It will be dedicated to technical aspects of charcoal analysis, from the raw sediment, through the charcoal particles extraction and counting, and up to the analysis of the signal (statistical treatment, using for example the paleofire R package). In particular, comparison between different methodologies will be discussed to develop common methodologies and draft a chart of 'best practices' for analyzing charcoals.

Day 2: Discussion about available data, and identification of geographical and methodological gaps
The first part of the discussion will focus on an evaluation of the data already available from Africa from what would be presented during the conference session and from what is available in the GCD (with 1-h dedicated to learn how to use the GCD). This will be a critical 'state of the art' of data available to identify where are the gaps (methodological and geographical).
The second part of the day would be dedicated to discuss the application of paleofire data for developing baselines for each tropical biome, and how long-term reconstruction can be used to inform conservation in the African context.

Day 3: New projects and collaborations
We will identify and prioritize the next challenges for paleofire science in Africa by drafting new projects to specifically solve the gaps we previously identified, by identifying potential funding sources and building new collaborations between different African Universities/labs.

Financial support

A small amount of financial support will be available to assist selected participants, mainly early-career researchers and those from less-favored countries. Please state in your application if you require financial support.


Applications must be sent to Julie Aleman (email address below) by 15 May 2018.
Interested participants must send a short letter, stating their interests in the workshop and their background.

Further information

Contact organizer Julie Aleman: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.