Wildfires and seasonal aridity recorded in Late Cretaceous strata from south-eastern Arizona, USA



Lithostratigraphic and organic chemostratigraphic studies of fluvial/lacustrine sediments in the Late Cretaceous Fort Crittenden Formation in south-eastern Arizona USA, reveal changes in palaeoclimate and tectonics as well as associated fluctuations in lake level. The lower Fort Crittenden is dominated by marginal wetland to deep-water lake deposits, whereas the upper Fort Crittenden is characterized by wetland to deltaic deposits. Abundance of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and reflectance of fusinite substantiate the impact of wildfires within the watershed. Organic geochemical evidence of wildfires is linked with sedimentological indicators of seasonal aridity suggesting that wildfires were common occurrences. Sedimentological evidence for seasonal aridity includes mottles and pseudoslickensides on ped structures within wetland mudstones. Distinct variations in PAH assemblages, characterized by the number of aromatic rings, indicate that there were variations in the intensities of wildfires, assuming no variations in the types of fuel. Fusinite reflectance values are consistent with combustion temperatures from 470 to 550 °C observed in modern wildfires.