Fire suppression impacts on fuels and fire intensity in the western U.S. Insights from archaeological luminescence dating in northern New Mexico

Christopher I. Roos, Tammy M. Rittenour, Thomas W. Swetnam, Rachel A. Loehman, Kacy L. Hollenback, Matthew J. Liebmann, Dana Drake Rosenstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

Here, we show that the last century of fire suppression in the western U.S. has resulted in fire intensities that are unique over more than 900 years of record in ponderosa pine forests (Pinus ponderosa). Specifically, we use the heat-sensitive luminescence signal of archaeological ceramics and tree-ring fire histories to show that a recent fire during mild weather conditions was more intense than anything experienced in centuries of frequent wildfires. We support this with a particularly robust set of optically stimulated luminescence measurements on pottery from an archaeological site in northern New Mexico. The heating effects of an October 2012 CE prescribed fire reset the luminescence signal in all 12 surface samples of archaeological ceramics, whereas none of the 10 samples exposed to at least 14 previous fires (1696–1893 CE) revealed any evidence of past thermal impact. This was true regardless of the fire behavior contexts of the 2012 CE samples (crown, surface, and smoldering fires). It suggests that the fuel characteristics from fire suppression at this site have no analog during the 550 years since the depopulation of this site or the 350 years of preceding occupation of the forested landscape of this region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number32
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalFire
Volume3
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2020

Keywords

  • Fire effects
  • Fire regimes
  • Single-grain optical dating
  • Southwest US
  • Surface archaeology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Building and Construction
  • Safety Research
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Forestry

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