Fire History and Fire Climate Relationships in Upper Elevation Forests of the Southwestern United States

TitleFire History and Fire Climate Relationships in Upper Elevation Forests of the Southwestern United States
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsMargolis, EQ
AdvisorSwetnam, T
Academic DepartmentSchool of Natural Resources
Number of Pages182
UniversityUniversity of Arizona
Thesis TypeDissertation
KeywordsAMO, climate, dendrochronology, dendroclimatology, ENSO, environment, fire, fire history, forest, madrean sky islands, mogollon plateau, mountain, PDO, southwest, teleconnection, tree ring, upper elevation, Watershed Management

Fire history and fire-climate relationships of upper elevation forests of the southwestern United States are imperative for informing management decisions in the face of increased crown fire occurrence and climate change. I used dendroecological techniques to reconstruct fires and stand-replacing fire patch size in Madrean Sky Islands and Mogollon Plateau. Reconstructed patch size (1685-1904) was compared with contemporary patch size (1996-2004). Reconstructed fires at three sites had stand-replacing patches totaling > 500 ha. No historical stand-replacing fire patches were evident in the mixed conifer/aspen forests of the Sky Islands. Maximum stand-replacing fire patch size of modern fires (1129 ha) was greater than that reconstructed from aspen (286 ha) and spruce-fir (521 ha). Updated spruce-fir patches may be evidence of larger (>2000ha) stand-replacing fire patches.To provide climatological context for fire history I used correlation and regionalization analyses to document spatial and temporal variability in climate regions, and El-Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO) teleconnections using 273 tree-ring chronologies (1732-1979). Four regions were determined by common variability in annual ring width. The component time score series replicate spatial variability in 20th century droughts (e.g., 1950’s) and pluvials (e.g., 1910’s). Two regions were significantly correlated with instrumental SOI and AMO, and three with PDO. Sub-regions within the southwestern U.S. varied geographically between the instrumental (1900-1979) and the pre-instrumental periods (1732-1899). Mapped correlations between ENSO, PDO and AMO, and tree-ring indices illustrate detailed sub-regional variability in teleconnections.I analyzed climate teleconnections, and fire-climate relationships of historical upper elevation fires from 16 sites in 8 mountain ranges. I tested for links between Palmer Drought Severity Index and tree-ring reconstructed ENSO, PDO and AMO phases (1905-1978 and 1700-1904). Upper elevation fires (115 fires, 84 fire years, 1623-1904) were compared with climate indices. ENSO, PDO, and AMO affected regional PDSI, but AMO and PDO teleconnections changed between periods. Fire occurrence was significantly related to inter-annual variability in PDSI, precipitation, ENSO, and phase combinations of ENSO and PDO, but not AMO (1700-1904). Reduced upper elevation fire (1785-1840) was coincident with a cool AMO phase.


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