Historical fire-climate relationships of upper elevation fire regimes in the south-western United States

Ellis Q. Margolis, Thomas Swetnam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Scopus citations


Understanding relationships between variability in historical fire occurrence and ocean-atmosphere oscillations provides opportunities for fire forecasting and projecting changes in fire regimes under climate change scenarios. We analysed tree-ring reconstructed regional climate teleconnections and fire-climate relationships in upper elevation forests (>2700m) from 16 sites in eight mountain ranges in the south-western USA. Climate teleconnections were identified by testing for associations between regional Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) and individual and combined phases of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) indices for both the fire exclusion (1905-1978) and reconstructed fire periods (1700-1904). Fire-climate relationships were identified by comparing reconstructed fires (84 fire years) in three classes (all, synchronous and stand-replacing fires) with PDSI, precipitation, temperature, and individual and combined phases of ENSO, PDO and AMO indices. Individual and phase combinations of ENSO, PDO and AMO were associated with variability in regional PDSI. Upper elevation fire occurrence was related to variability in regional drought, ENSO phase and phase combinations of ENSO and PDO. We conclude that ENSO most consistently influenced variability in moisture and upper elevation fire occurrence, including stand-replacing fires, but this relationship was potentially modulated by phases of the PDO.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)588-598
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Wildland Fire
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2013



  • Arizona
  • Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation
  • El Niño-
  • high-severity fire
  • New Mexico
  • Pacific Decadal Oscillation
  • Southern Oscillation
  • Stand-replacing fire
  • Tree ring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Ecology

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