Local and regional wildfire activity in central Maine (USA) during the past 900 years

Abstract

Climatic and environmental change has a direct effect on wildfire frequencies and distributions throughout many regions of the world. Reconstructions from natural archives such as lake sediments can extend temporally limited historical records of regional wildfire activity over longer timescales through sedimentary charcoal analysis or examining polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations. To date, little work has been completed on sedimentary PAH distributions from lacustrine records in the Northeastern United States, making it difficult to assess how accurately PAHs trace fire activity in the region, the spatial scope of the signal (local vs. regional), or if certain compounds do a more adequate job of tracking fire than others. In this study, we examine PAHs and macrocharcoal from a varved sedimentary record from Basin Pond, Fayette, Maine (USA). We find that a drastic increase in the concentrations of 12 measured PAHs occurred during the nineteenth to twentieth centuries due to industrialization of the region. Additionally, elevated concentrations of the PAH retene were found to be coeval with known large-scale regional wildfire events that occurred in 1761–1762, 1825, and 1947 (A.D.). We used the ratio of the PAHs retene and chrysene to infer differences in biomass burning versus anthropogenic combustion sources because retene is associated with conifer resin whereas chrysene is associated with fossil fuel burning. Our new Basin Pond PAH records, along with a local signal of fire occurrence from charcoal analysis, offers the prospect of using this multi-proxy approach as a method for examining long-term wildfire frequency at both the local and regional scale in the Northeastern US.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Jeff Salacup and the UMass Biogeochemistry group for laboratory assistance and helpful discussions. Thanks to Neil Patel for programming assistance and in the creation of bathymetric maps. The research was supported by Grant No. G12AC00001 from the United States Geological Survey. Results are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Northeast Climate Science Center or the USGS. D. Miller was supported by a Department of the Interior Northeast Climate Science Center graduate fellowship. Special thanks to Dr. Debra Willard, coordinator of the Climate and Land Use Change Research and Development Program at the USGS, for providing funding for radiocarbon analysis.

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Correspondence to Daniel R. Miller.

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Miller, D.R., Castañeda, I.S., Bradley, R.S. et al. Local and regional wildfire activity in central Maine (USA) during the past 900 years. J Paleolimnol 58, 455–466 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10933-017-0002-z

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Keywords

  • Varve
  • Wildfire
  • PAH
  • Retene
  • Charcoal
  • New England