GSA Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington, USA - 2017

Paper No. 243-11
Presentation Time: 4:40 PM


OUIMET, William B., Dept. of Geography; Center for Integrative Geosciences, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269,

Southern New England is a dynamic landscape that preserves a dramatic transformation of widespread 17th to early 20th century deforestation and agriculture followed by abandonment and reforestation. As such, the southern New England region provides an important example of rapid Anthropocene landscape change, the production and fate of legacy sediment, and the long-term effects of human impacts. High-resolution, publicly available LiDAR point clouds and derivative Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) have transformed our ability to identify and map abandoned land use features below the forest canopy. The extent and intensity of historic land use can be inferred most notably from stone wall lined fields, which indicate areas used for agriculture and pasture for 50-200+ years, and relict charcoal hearths, which signal the production of charcoal from forest hardwoods. Mapping to date, focused in Connecticut and Massachusetts, indicates that the occurrence of intense land use activities such as agriculture/pasture and charcoal production were highly regionally variable. Preliminary analysis indicates areas of low occurrence (0 km of walls, 0 charcoal hearths per km2) as well as areas of high intensity (>5km of stone walls per km2; and >100 charcoal hearths per km2). Furthermore, some areas exhibit signs of overlap between both agriculture/pasture and charcoal production, while others have a clear absence of any marker of historic land use or human impact. This presentation will summarize ongoing research efforts to address the following Anthropocene research questions: how does the spatial distribution of historic features and inferred land use practices vary across the region; what controls this distribution; what are the hillslope and soil impacts of different land use practices; and how does the type and density of historic features and inferred land use manifest itself in the Anthropocene sedimentary record downstream of affected hillslopes? Overall, quantifying 17th to early 20th century human impacts in southern New England serves as a benchmark for understanding human activities in the context of Holocene landscape change and how this region responds to landscape perturbations.