Paleofire reconstruction for high-elevation forests in the Sierra Nevada, California, with implications for wildfire synchrony and climate variability in the late Holocene

Douglas J. Hallett, Scott R Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Scopus citations


Here, we present two high-resolution records of macroscopic charcoal from high-elevation lake sites in the Sierra Nevada, California, and evaluate the synchroneity of fire response for east- and west-side subalpine forests during the past 9200 yr. Charcoal influx was low between 11,200 and 8000 cal yr BP when vegetation consisted of sparse Pinus-dominated forest and montane chaparral shrubs. High charcoal influx after ∼ 8000 cal yr BP marks the arrival of Tsuga mertensiana and Abies magnifica, and a higher-than-present treeline that persisted into the mid-Holocene. Coeval decreases in fire episode frequency coincide with neoglacial advances and lower treeline in the Sierra Nevada after 3800 cal yr BP. Independent fire response occurs between 9200 and 5000 cal yr BP, and significant synchrony at 100- to 1000-yr timescales emerges between 5000 cal yr BP and the present, especially during the last 2500 yr. Indistinguishable fire-return interval distributions and synchronous fires show that climatic control of fire became increasingly important during the late Holocene. Fires after 1200 cal yr BP are often synchronous and corroborate with inferred droughts. Holocene fire activity in the high Sierra Nevada is driven by changes in climate linked to insolation and appears to be sensitive to the dynamics of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)180-190
Number of pages11
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2010



  • Charcoal
  • Climate change
  • Drought
  • Forest fire
  • Ripley K function
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Snowpack
  • Synchrony
  • Weibull distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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