Fire-climate-human interactions during the postglacial period at Sunrise Ridge, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (USA)
Department or Administrative Unit
With the creation of Mount Rainier National Park (MORA) in 1899 came the active management of the park's landscapes and a heavy emphasis on fire suppression. Today, managers at MORA seek to better manage current fire activity; however, this requires an improved understanding of past fire activity on the mountain. In this study high-resolution macroscopic charcoal analysis and pollen analysis of lake sediment records was used to reconstruct the postglacial fire and vegetation history for the Sunrise Ridge area of MORA. Fire activity was lowest during the Late Glacial when vegetation was sparse and climate was cool and dry. Fire activity increased during the early Holocene as the regional climate warmed and dried, and burnable biomass became more abundant. Fire activity continued to increase into the middle Holocene (until ca. 6600 cal yr BP) even as the regional climate became wetter and eventually cooler; the modern-day mesic forest and subalpine meadow landscapes of the park established at this time. Fire activity was generally highest and mean fire return intervals were lowest on Sunrise Ridge during the late Holocene, and are consistent with tree-ring based estimates of fire frequency. The similarity between the Sunrise Ridge and other paleofire records in the Pacific Northwest suggests that broad-scale climatic shifts, such as the retreat of the Cordilleran ice sheet and changes in annual insolation, as well as increased interannual climate variability (i.e., drought) particularly in the middle to late Holocene, were responsible for changes in fire activity during the postglacial period. However, abundant and increasing archaeological evidence from Sunrise Ridge during the middle to late Holocene suggests that humans may have also influenced the landscape at this time. It is likely that fires will continue to increase at MORA as drought becomes a more frequent occurrence in the Pacific Northwest.
Walsh, M. K., Lukens, M. L., McCutcheon, P. T., & Burtchard, G. C. (2017). Fire-climate-human interactions during the postglacial period at Sunrise Ridge, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (USA). Quaternary Science Reviews, 177, 246–264. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2017.10.032
Quaternary Science Reviews
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