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  1. Abstract Background

    The global human footprint has fundamentally altered wildfire regimes, creating serious consequences for human health, biodiversity, and climate. However, it remains difficult to project how long-term interactions among land use, management, and climate change will affect fire behavior, representing a key knowledge gap for sustainable management. We used expert assessment to combine opinions about past and future fire regimes from 99 wildfire researchers. We asked for quantitative and qualitative assessments of the frequency, type, and implications of fire regime change from the beginning of the Holocene through the year 2300.


    Respondents indicated some direct human influence on wildfire since at least ~ 12,000 years BP, though natural climate variability remained the dominant driver of fire regime change until around 5,000 years BP, for most study regions. Responses suggested a ten-fold increase in the frequency of fire regime change during the last 250 years compared with the rest of the Holocene, corresponding first with the intensification and extensification of land use and later with anthropogenic climate change. Looking to the future, fire regimes were predicted to intensify, with increases in frequency, severity, and size in all biomes except grassland ecosystems. Fire regimes showed different climate sensitivities across biomes, but the likelihood of fire regime change increased with higher warming scenarios for all biomes. Biodiversity, carbon storage, and other ecosystem services were predicted to decrease for most biomes under higher emission scenarios. We present recommendations for adaptation and mitigation under emerging fire regimes, while recognizing that management options are constrained under higher emission scenarios.


    The influence of humans on wildfire regimes has increased over the last two centuries. The perspective gained from past fires should be considered in land and fire management strategies, but novel fire behavior is likely given the unprecedented human disruption of plant communities, climate, and other factors. Future fire regimes are likely to degrade key ecosystem services, unless climate change is aggressively mitigated. Expert assessment complements empirical data and modeling, providing a broader perspective of fire science to inform decision making and future research priorities.

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  2. Abstract

    Herbivores and fire are important consumers of plant biomass that influence vegetation structure, nutrient cycling, and biodiversity globally. Departures from historic biomass consumption patterns due to wild herbivore losses, livestock proliferation, and altered fire regimes can have critical ecological consequences. We set out to (i) understand how consumer dominance and prevalence responded to spatial and temporal moisture gradients in Holocene North America and (ii) examine how past and present consumer dominance patterns in North America compare to less altered consumer regimes of modern Sub-Saharan Africa. We developed long-term records of bison abundance and biomass burning in Holocene midcontinent North America and compared these records to reconstructions of moisture availability and vegetation structure. We used these reconstructions to characterize bison and fire prevalence across associated moisture and vegetation gradients. We found that bison herbivory dominated biomass consumption in dry settings whereas fire dominated in wetter environments. Historical distributions of herbivory and burning in midcontinent North America resemble those of contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting disturbance feedbacks and interactions regulate long-term consumer dynamics. Comparisons of consumer dynamics in contemporary North America with Holocene North America and Sub-Saharan Africa also reveal that fire is functionally absent from regions where it was once common, with profound ecological implications.

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  3. Abstract

    Interactions between vegetation and sediment in post‐fire landscapes play a critical role in sediment connectivity. Prior research has focused on the effects of vegetation removal from hillslopes, but little attention has been paid to the effects of coarse woody debris (CWD) added to the forest floor following fires. We investigate the impacts of CWD on hillslope sediment storage in post‐fire environments. First, we present a new conceptual model, identifying “active” storage scenarios where sediment is trapped upslope of fire‐produced debris such as logs, and additional “passive” storage scenarios including the reduced effectiveness of tree‐throw due to burnt roots and snapped stems. Second, we use tilt table experiments to test controls on sediment storage capacity. Physical modeling suggests storage varies nonlinearly with log orientation and hillslope gradient, and the maximum storage capacity of log barriers in systems with high sediment fluxes likely exceeds estimates that assume simple sediment pile geometries. Last, we calculate hillslope sediment storage capacity in a burned catchment in southwest Montana by combining high‐resolution topographic data and digitization of over 5000 downed logs from aerial imagery. We estimate that from 3500–14 000 m3of sediment was potentially stored upslope of logs. These estimates assume that all downed logs store sediment, a process that is likely temporally dynamic as storage capacity evolves with CWD decay. Our results highlight the role that CWD plays in limiting rapid sediment movement in recently burned systems. Using a range of potential soil production rates (50–100 mm/ky), CWD would buffer the downslope transport of ~35–280 years of soil produced across the landscape, indicating that fire‐produced CWD may serve as an important source of sediment disconnectivity in catchments. These results suggest that disturbance events have previously unaccounted‐for mechanisms of increasing hillslope sediment storage that should be incorporated into models of sediment connectivity.

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  4. Growing season temperatures play a crucial role in controlling treeline elevation at regional to global scales. However, understanding of treeline dynamics in response to long-term changes in temperature is limited. In this study, we analyze pollen, plant macrofossils, and charcoal preserved in organic layers within a 10,400-year-old ice patch and in sediment from a 6000-year-old wetland located above present-day treeline in the Beartooth Mountains, Wyoming, to explore the relationship between Holocene climate variability and shifts in treeline elevation. Pollen data indicate a lower-than-present treeline between 9000 and 6200 cal yr BP during the warm, dry summer and cold winter conditions of the early Holocene. Increases in arboreal pollen at 6200 cal yr BP suggest an upslope treeline expansion when summers became cooler and wetter. A possible hiatus in the wetland record at ca. 4200–3000 cal yr BP suggests increased snow and ice cover at high elevations and a lowering of treeline. Treeline position continued to fluctuate with growing season warming and cooling during the late-Holocene. Periods of high fire activity correspond with times of increased woody cover at high elevations. The two records indicate that climate was an important driver of vegetation and treeline change during the Holocene. Early Holocene treeline was governed by moisture limitations, whereas late-Holocene treeline was sensitive to increases in growing season temperatures. Climate projections for the region suggest warmer temperatures could decrease effective growing season moisture at high elevations resulting in a reduction of treeline elevation. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2025
  5. Chemical changes in hot springs, as recorded by thermal waters and their deposits, provide a window into the evolution of the postglacial hydrothermal system of the Yellowstone Plateau Volcanic Field. Today, most hydrothermal travertine forms to the north and south of the ca. 631 ka Yellowstone caldera where groundwater flow through subsurface sedimentary rocks leads to calcite saturation at hot springs. In contrast, low-Ca rhyolites dominate the subsurface within the Yellowstone caldera, resulting in thermal waters that rarely deposit travertine. We investigated the timing and origin of five small travertine deposits in the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins to understand the conditions that allowed for travertine deposition. New 230Th-U dating, oxygen (δ18O), carbon (δ13C), and strontium (87Sr/86Sr) isotopic ratios, and elemental concentrations indicate that travertine deposits within the Yellowstone caldera formed during three main episodes that correspond broadly with known periods of wet climate: 13.9−13.6 ka, 12.2−9.5 ka, and 5.2−2.9 ka. Travertine deposition occurred in response to the influx of large volumes of cold meteoric water, which increased the rate of chemical weathering of surficial sediments and recharge into the hydrothermal system. The small volume of intracaldera travertine does not support a massive postglacial surge of CO2 within the Yellowstone caldera, nor was magmatic CO2 the catalyst for postglacial travertine deposition. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 13, 2025
  6. We present oxygen isotope and charcoal accumulation records from two lakes in eastern Washington that have sufficient temporal resolution to quantitatively compare with tree‐ring records and meteorological data. Hydroclimate reconstructions from tree‐rings and lake sediments show close correspondence after accounting for seasonal‐ to centennial‐ scale temporal sensitivities. Carbonate δ18O measurements from Castor and Round lakes reveal that the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) experienced wetter November‐March conditions than the Little Ice Age (LIA). Charcoal records from Castor, Round, and nearby lakes show elevated fire activity during the LIA compared to the MCA. Increased multidecadal hydroclimate variability after 1250 CE is evident in proxy records throughout western North America. In the Upper Columbia River Basin, multidecadal wet periods during the LIA may have enhanced fuel loads that burned in subsequent dry periods. A notable decline in biomass burning occurred with Euro‐American settlement in the late nineteenth century. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 16, 2024
  7. Introduction Tree defense characteristics play a crucial role in modulating conifer bark beetle interactions, and there is a growing body of literature investigating factors mediating tree growth and resin-based defenses in conifers. A subset of studies have looked at relationships between tree growth, resin duct morphology and climate; however, these studies are almost exclusively from lower-elevation, moisture-limited systems. The relationship between resin ducts and climate in higher-elevation, energy-limited ecosystems is currently poorly understood. Methods In this study, we: (1) evaluated the relationship between biological trends in tree growth, resin duct anatomy, and climatic variability and (2) determined if tree growth and resin duct morphology of whitebark pine, a high-elevation conifer of management concern, is constrained by climate and/or regional drought conditions. Results We found that high-elevation whitebark pine trees growing in an energy-limited system experienced increased growth and defense under warmer and regionally drier conditions, with climate variables explaining a substantive proportion of variation (∼20–31%) in tree diameter growth and resin duct anatomy. Discussion Our results suggest that whitebark pine growth and defense was historically limited by short growing seasons in high-elevation environments; however, this relationship may change in the future with prolonged warming conditions. 
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  8. This archived Paleoclimatology Study is available from the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), under the World Data Service (WDS) for Paleoclimatology. The associated NCEI study type is Lake. The data include parameters of paleolimnology (physical properties) with a geographic location of Washington, United States Of America. The time period coverage is from 1181 to -68 in calendar years before present (BP). See metadata information for parameter and study location details. Please cite this study when using the data. 
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  9. Abstract Hydrothermal explosions are significant potential hazards in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. The northern Yellowstone Lake area hosts the three largest hydrothermal explosion craters known on Earth empowered by the highest heat flow values in Yellowstone and active seismicity and deformation. Geological and geochemical studies of eighteen sublacustrine cores provide the first detailed synthesis of the age, sedimentary facies, and origin of multiple hydrothermal explosion deposits. New tephrochronology and radiocarbon results provide a four-dimensional view of recent geologic activity since recession at ca. 15–14.5 ka of the >1-km-thick Pinedale ice sheet. The sedimentary record in Yellowstone Lake contains multiple hydrothermal explosion deposits ranging in age from ca. 13 ka to ~1860 CE. Hydrothermal explosions require a sudden drop in pressure resulting in rapid expansion of high-temperature fluids causing fragmentation, ejection, and crater formation; explosions may be initiated by seismicity, faulting, deformation, or rapid lake-level changes. Fallout and transport of ejecta produces distinct facies of subaqueous hydrothermal explosion deposits. Yellowstone hydrothermal systems are characterized by alkaline-Cl and/or vapor-dominated fluids that, respectively, produce alteration dominated by silica-smectite-chlorite or by kaolinite. Alkaline-Cl liquids flash to steam during hydrothermal explosions, producing much more energetic events than simple vapor expansion in vapor-dominated systems. Two enormous explosion events in Yellowstone Lake were triggered quite differently: Elliott’s Crater explosion resulted from a major seismic event (8 ka) that ruptured an impervious hydrothermal dome, whereas the Mary Bay explosion (13 ka) was triggered by a sudden drop in lake level stimulated by a seismic event, tsunami, and outlet channel erosion. 
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