Long-term relations among fire, fuel, and climate in the north-western US based on lake-sediment studies

  • Whitlock C
  • Marlon J
  • Briles C
 et al. 
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Abstract

Pollen and high-resolution charcoal records from the north-western USA provide an opportunity to examine the linkages among fire, climate, and fuels on multiple temporal and spatial scales. The data suggest that general charcoal levels were low in the late-glacial period and increased steadily through the last 11 000 years with increasing fuel biomass. At local scales, fire occurrence is governed by the interaction of site controls, including vegetation, local climate and fire weather, and topography. At subregional scales, patterns in the long term fire-episode frequency data are apparent: The Coast Range had relatively few fires in the Holocene, whereas the KlamathSiskiyou region experienced frequent fire episodes. Fire regimes in the northern Rocky Mountains have been strongly governed by millennial- and centennial-scale climate variability and regional differences in summer moisture. At regional scales, sites in present-day summer-dry areas show a period of protracted high fire activity within the early Holocene that is attributed to intensified summer drought in the summer-dry region. Sites in summer-wet areas show the opposite pattern, that fire was lower in frequency than present in the early Holocene as result of strengthened monsoonal circulation then. Higher fire-episode frequency at many sites in the last 2000 years is attributed to greater drought during the Medieval Climate Anomaly and possibly anthropogenic burning. The association between drought, increased fire occurrence, and available fuels evident on several time scales suggests that long-term fire history patterns should be considered in current assessments of historical fire regimes and fuel conditions.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Charcoal data
  • Fire history
  • Holocene
  • Pollen data
  • Western US

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