"We know these tree rings capture most temperature changes quite well," said Michael Mann, professor of meteorology and geosciences and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center. "But the problem appears to be in their response to the intense short-term cooling that occurs following a very large volcanic eruption. Explosive volcanic eruptions place particulates called aerosols into the stratosphere, reflecting back some fraction of incoming sunlight and cooling the planet for several years following the eruption."
Tree rings are used as proxies for climate because trees create unique rings each year that often reflect the weather conditions that influenced the growing season that year. For reconstructing climate conditions, tree-ring researchers seek trees growing at the extremes of their growth range. Inferring temperature changes required going to locations either at the tree line caused by elevation or at the boreal tree line, the northern most place where the trees will grow.
For these trees, growth is almost entirely controlled by temperature, rather than precipitation, soil nutrients or sunlight, yielding a good proxy record of surface temperature changes.
"The problem is that these trees are so close to the threshold for growth, that if the temperature drops just a couple of degrees, there is little or no growth and a loss of sensitivity to any further cooling. In extreme cases, there may be no growth ring at all," said Mann. "If no ring was formed in a given year, that creates a further complication, introducing an error in the chronology established by counting rings back in time."
The researchers compared temperature reconstructions from actual tree-ring data with temperature estimates from climate models driven with past volcanic eruptions.
Comparing the model-simulated temperatures to the Northern Hemisphere temperatures reconstructed from tree-ring thickness, Mann, working with Jose D. Fuentes, professor of meteorology, Penn State, and Scott Rutherford, associate professor of environmental science, Roger Williams University, found the overall level of agreement to be quite good.
However, they report in the current issue of Nature Geoscience that "there is one glaring inconsistency; the response to the three largest tropical eruptions -- AD 1258/1259, 1452/1453 and the 1809+1815 double pulse of eruptions -- is sharply reduced in the reconstruction."
Following the 1258 eruption, the climate model simulations predict a drop of 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, but the tree ring-based reconstruction shows only about a 1 degree Fahrenheit dip and the dip occurs several years too late. The other large eruptions showed the same type of discrepancy.
Using a theoretical model of tree-growth driven by the simulated temperature changes, the team determined that the cooling response recorded by the trees after a volcanic eruption was limited by biological growth effects. Any temperature drop exceeding roughly 1 degree Fahrenheit would lead to minimal tree growth and an inability of trees to record any further cooling. When growth is minimal enough, it is likely that a ring will not be detectable for that year.
The potential absence of rings in the first one to three years following eruption further degrades the temperature reconstruction. Because tree-ring information is averaged across many locations to obtain a representative estimate of northern hemisphere temperature, tree-ring records with and without missing rings for a given year are merged, leading to a smearing and reduced and delayed apparent cooling.
The researchers also noted that aerosol particles forced into the air by volcanoes block some direct sunlight causing cooling and they produce more indirect, scattered light at the surface. Trees like indirect sunlight and grow better under those conditions. However, this effect is small compared to that of lower temperatures and shorter growing seasons.
By accounting for these various effects in the tree growth model, the researchers were able to reproduce the reduced and smeared cooling seen in the actual tree-ring temperature reconstruction, including the near absence -- and delay -- of cooling following the massive 1258 eruption.
"Scientists look at the past response of the climate to natural factors like volcanoes to better understand how sensitive Earth's climate might be to the human impact of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations," said Mann. "Our findings suggest that past studies using tree-ring data to infer this sensitivity have likely underestimated it."
A'ndrea Elyse Messer | EurekAlert!
Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union
UM researchers study vast carbon residue of ocean life
19.10.2016 | University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences