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Postglacial vegetation and fire history with a high-resolution analysis of tephra impacts, High Cascade Range, Oregon, USA

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The postglacial history of vegetation, wildfire, and climate in the Cascade Range (Oregon) is only partly understood. This study uses high-resolution macroscopic charcoal and pollen analysis from a 13-m, 14,500 years sediment record from Gold Lake, located in a montane forest, to reconstruct forest vegetation and fire history. The occurrence of three tephra layers, including a 78-cm airfall Mazama tephra, as well as highly laminated segments, allows one to study tephra impacts on vegetation at a fine temporal resolution. From the Late Glacial through the Younger Dryas, pollen spectra vary little. The early Holocene is marked by a sudden increase in Pseudotsuga, indicating warmer conditions, while the late Holocene is marked by increasing Tsuga heterophylla and Tsuga mertensiana, indicating the onset of moist conditions in the region. High-resolution charcoal data show periods of large peaks during the Late Glacial, pre-, and post-Mazama eruption and since 4 ka (thousands of years before present). Low fire during the early Holocene is unexpected, given regional evidence of warmer and drier summers, but it may be the result of fuel limitation. After the Mazama tephra deposition (7.63 ka), the non-arboreal pollen composition was changed, with some taxa disappearing or reduced in abundance for 300 years. Arboreal taxa were little affected by the tephra, showing only a 20% increase in Pinus pollen and no discernible impact on the pollen accumulation rate (PAR). In contrast, the Mazama tephra was followed by ca. 70 years of very low charcoal input, followed by a large peak, consistent with the burial of surface fuels and decades of fuel accumulation. There was also increased fire frequency and peak magnitude at 1.5 ka, followed by very little fire after 0.4 ka, consistent with the current old-growth forest surrounding the lake. This detailed and high-resolution record adds significantly to understanding the impacts of climate change and the singular effect of the Mazama eruption, impacting watershed vegetation, and fire for centuries but with minimal impact on the regional forest composition.
J. Baig; D.G. Gavin
Baig J, Gavin DG. Postglacial vegetation and fire history with a high-resolution analysis of tephra impacts, High Cascade Range, Oregon, USA. Quaternary Science Reviews [Internet]. 2023 ;303. Available from:…
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