Fire-climate interactions in the American West since 1400 CE

Valerie Trouet, Alan H. Taylor, Eugene R. Wahl, Carl N. Skinner, Scott L. Stephens

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83 Scopus citations


Despite a strong anthropogenic fingerprint on 20th Century wildland fire activity in the American West, climate remains a main driver. A better understanding of the spatio-temporal variability in fire-climate interactions is therefore crucial for fire management. Here, we present annually resolved, tree-ring based fire records for four regions in the American West that extend back to 1400 CE. In all regions, years with high fire activity were characterized by widespread yet regionally distinct summer droughts. Overall fire activity was high in late Medieval times, when much of the American West was affected by mega-droughts. A distinct decline in fire activity in the late 16th Century corresponds with anomalously low temperatures during the Little Ice Age and a decline in Native American fire use. The high spatiotemporal resolution of our fire record discloses a time-frequency dependent climatic influence on wildfire regimes in the American West that needs to be accounted for in fire models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL04702
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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