Fire-Southern Oscillation Relations in the Southwestern United States

Science  31 Aug 1990:
Vol. 249, Issue 4972, pp. 1017-1020
DOI: 10.1126/science.249.4972.1017


Fire scar and tree growth chronologies (1700 to 1905) and fire statistics (since 1905) from Arizona and New Mexico show that small areas burn after wet springs associated with the low phase of the Southern Oscillation (SO), whereas large areas burn after dry springs associated with the high phase of the SO. Through its synergistic influence on spring weather and fuel conditions, climatic variability in the tropical Pacific significantly influences vegetation dynamics in the southwestern United States. Synchrony of fire-free and severe fire years across diverse southwestern forests implies that climate forces fire regimes on a subcontinental scale; it also underscores the importance of exogenous factors in ecosystem dynamics.

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