Climate study linking early Māori fires to Antarctic changes sparks controversy

Research tying Māori activity 700 years ago to Antarctic changes sparks debate in New Zealand over Indigenous inclusion in science

Deep in the ice of a remote Antarctic peninsula, a group of researchers found evidence that fires started by early Māori wreaked changes in the atmosphere detectable 7,000km away. In New Zealand, the research sparked a heated controversy of its own – over Indigenous inclusion in scientific enterprise, and what scientists owe the people whose history becomes a subject of their research.

The research, published this month, examined ice cores from the Antarctic peninsula. Scientists found high concentrations of black carbon, dating back 700 years. Atmospheric modelling narrowed the possible sources to New Zealand, Patagonia or Tasmania – but only in New Zealand did charcoal records match the timeframe. The deposits coincided with Māori arrival in New Zealand, and showed downstream effects of Māori using fire to clear the land.

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