Wildfires and geochemical change in a subalpine forest over the past six millennia

The frequency of large wildfires in western North America has been increasing in recent decades, yet the geochemical impacts of these events are poorly understood. The multidecadal timescales of both disturbance-regime variability and ecosystem responses make it challenging to study the effects of fire on terrestrial nutrient cycling. Nonetheless, disturbance-mediated changes in nutrient concentrations could ultimately limit forest productivity over centennial to millennial time scales. Here, we use a novel approach that combines quantitative elemental analysis of lake sediments using x-ray fluorescence to assess the geochemical impacts of high-severity fires in a 6200 year long sedimentary record from a small subalpine lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA.

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