PROJECTIONS of the ecological effects of global climate change often include increased frequency and/or intensity of forest fires in regions of warmer and drier climate 1-3In addition to disturbing biological systems, widespread intense fires may influence the evolution of the physical landscape through greatly enhanced sediment transport4. Debris-flow to flood-streamflow sedimentation events following the 1988 fires in the Yellowstone National Park area (Wyoming and Montana, USA) have allowed us to examine the geomorphological response to fire in a mountain environment. Abundant analogous deposits in older alluvial fan sequences bear witness to past fire-related sedimentation events in northeastern Yellowstone, and radiocarbon dating of these events yields a detailed chronology of fire-related sedimentation for the past 3,500 years. We find that alluvial fans aggrade during periods of frequent fire-related sedimentation events, and we interpret these periods as subject to drought or high climatic variability. During wetter periods, sediment is removed from alluvial fan storage and transported down axial streams, resulting in floodplain aggradation. The dominant alluvial activity is strongly modulated by climate, with fire acting as a drought-actuated catalyst for sediment transport.
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