A 3,000-year record from 52 of the world's oldest trees shows that California's western Sierra Nevada was droughty and often fiery from 800 to 1300, according to new research.
Scientists reconstructed the 3,000-year history of fire by dating fire scars on ancient giant sequoia trees, Sequoiadendron giganteum, in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park. Individual giant sequoias can live more than 3,000 years.
"It's the longest tree-ring fire history in the world, and it's from this amazing place with these amazing trees." said lead author Thomas W. Swetnam of the University of Arizona in Tucson. "This is an epic collection of tree rings."
The new research extends Swetnam's previous tree-ring fire history for giant sequoias another 1,000 years into the past. In addition, he and his colleagues used tree-ring records from other species of trees to reconstruct the region's past climate.
The scientists found the years from 800 to 1300, known as the Medieval Warm Period, had the most frequent fires in the 3,000 years studied. Other research has found that the period from 800 to 1300 was warm and dry.
"What's not so well known about the Medieval Warm Period is how warm it was in the western U.S.," Swetnam said. "This is one line of evidence that it was very fiery on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and there's a very strong relationship between drought and fire."
Droughts are typically both warm and dry, he added.
Knowing how giant sequoia trees responded to a 500-year warm spell in the past is important because scientists predict that climate change will probably subject the trees to such a warm, dry environment again, said Swetnam, a UA professor of dendrochronology and director of UA's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.
During the Medieval Warm Period extensive fires burned through parts of the Giant Forest at intervals of about 3 to 10 years, he said. Any individual tr
|Contact: Mari N. Jensen|
University of Arizona