A comparison and integration of tree-ring and alluvial records of fire history at the Missionary Ridge Fire, Durango, Colorado, USA

Erica Bigio, Thomas W. Swetnam, Christopher H. Baisan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Scopus citations

Abstract

We used tree-ring and alluvial sediment methods to reconstruct past fire regimes for a mixed conifer forest within a 1 km2 drainage basin which was severely burned by a wildfire near Durango, Colorado. Post-fire debris flow events incised the valley-filling alluvial sediments in the lower basin, and created exposures of fire-related of deposits of late-Holocene age. Tree-ring and alluvial sediment fire history records were created separately, and then compared and integrated to create a ~ 3000 year record of past fire activity. The tree-ring record showed that from AD 1679 to 1879, there were frequent surface fires, while patches of high-severity fire occurred during widespread fire years. The alluvial record showed that a low- to moderate-and mixed-severity fire regime has likely been dominant over the past ~ 2600 calibrated calendar years before present, as shown by locally episodic deposition of charcoal-rich, fine-grained sediments. Radiocarbon dating suggested that in two stratigraphic sections, there was rapid deposition of several fine-grained sediment layers. One of these episodes occurred during the Medieval Climatic Anomaly (AD 900-1300). A charcoal-rich debris flow deposit in the oldest exposed part of the stratigraphic record dated to ~ 2600 calibrated calendar years before present. This event was potentially equivalent in magnitude to the debris-flow events following the recent wildfire in the study area, and is evidence of a high-severity fire that burned a large proportion of the study basin. The timing of this event coincides with a period of less frequent, yet more severe wildfires in a nearby lake sediment record, and is associated with the end of a Neoglacial period of cooler and wetter temperatures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1047-1061
Number of pages15
JournalHolocene
Volume20
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 22 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Archaeology
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology

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