Articles | Volume 8, issue 2
Research article
09 Mar 2012
Research article |  | 09 Mar 2012

Fire history in western Patagonia from paired tree-ring fire-scar and charcoal records

A. Holz, S. Haberle, T. T. Veblen, R. De Pol-Holz, and J. Southon

Abstract. Fire history reconstructions are typically based on tree ages and tree-ring fire scars or on charcoal in sedimentary records from lakes or bogs, but rarely on both. In this study of fire history in western Patagonia (47–48° S) in southern South America (SSA) we compared three sedimentary charcoal records collected in bogs with tree-ring fire-scar data collected at 13 nearby sample sites. We examined the temporal and spatial correspondence between the two fire proxies and also compared them to published charcoal records from distant sites in SSA, and with published proxy reconstructions of regional climate variability and large-scale climate modes. Two of our three charcoal records record fire activity for the last 4 ka yr and one for the last 11 ka yr. For the last ca. 400 yr, charcoal accumulation peaks tend to coincide with high fire activity in the tree-ring fire scar records, but the charcoal records failed to detect some of the fire activity recorded by tree rings. Potentially, this discrepancy reflects low-severity fires that burn in herbaceous and other fine fuels without depositing charcoal in the sedimentary record. Periods of high fire activity tended to be synchronous across sample areas, across proxy types, and with proxy records of regional climatic variability as well as major climate drivers. Fire activity throughout the Holocene in western Patagonia has responded to regional climate variation affecting a broad region of southern South America that is teleconnected to both tropical- and high-latitude climate drivers-El Niño-Southern Oscillation and the Southern Annular Mode. An early Holocene peak in fire activity pre-dates any known human presence in our study area, and consequently implicates lightning as the ignition source. In contrast, the increased fire activity during the 20th century, which was concomitantly recorded by charcoal from all the sampled bogs and at all fire-scar sample sites, is attributed to human-set fires and is outside the range of variability characteristic of these ecosystems over many centuries and probably millennia.