Dendrochronologists have shown that tree-ring data produce a remarkably accurate history of droughts and other climate changes.
Combined with reliable drought indices and historical descriptions of climate conditions, dendrochronology – the technique of dating events and environmental change by relying on characteristic patterns of tree-ring growth – can provide a climate perspective on important events such as large-scale human migration and even the rise and fall of entire civilizations.
A research team, including University of Arkansas Distinguished Professor and dendrochronologist David Stahle and Ewing Research Professor Edward Cook of Columbia University, used more than 1,400 climate-sensitive tree-ring chronologies from multiple tree species across North America to reconstruct the Palmer drought severity index (PDSI), a widely used soil moisture index. Stahle presented his research Friday, Feb. 15, in a symposium on “U.S. Climate and Weather Extremes: Past, Present, and Future,” during the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston. He also participated in a panel discussion with other climate experts.
The Palmer drought severity index is based on instrumental temperature and precipitation data dating back to 1895. Stahle and his colleagues inserted the index between fixed points on a grid covering most of North America. Their tree-ring reconstructions cover the same geographic area but extend back to 800 A.D.
Stahle wanted to examine the reconstructed indices to test the accuracy of the records and to see if there were any patterns related to drought and other climate changes. The findings were dramatic.
“Comparisons of reconstructed PDSI with instrumentally measured PDSI during the 20th century document the remarkable accuracy with which the tree-ring data reproduce the spatial pattern and intensity of observed drought at annual and decadal time scales, including the Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s,” Stahle said.
The data also confirmed historical descriptions of climate conditions prior to the modern era of instrumentation for weather and climate measurements. For these comparisons, the researchers relied on accounts from Zebulon Pike’s 1806-1807 expedition and from Stephen H. Long’s 1820 exploration. Both expeditions described extremely dry conditions across much of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.
The researchers analyzed the reconstructions and found a pattern of droughts over the past few centuries similar to the 2011 drought centered over Texas and the Southern Plains as well as the 2012 Corn Belt drought.
“Both of these droughts have precedents in the centuries-long tree-ring reconstructions,” Stahle said. “In fact, the tree-ring data document drought anomalies in prehistory with a similar severity and spatial impact that persisted for two to three years. Severe drought over the Corn Belt and southern Great Plains are likely to recur, especially with continued warming over the United States.”
The tree-ring reconstructions of the Palmer index indicated that the Great Pueblo Drought, which occurred from 1276 to 1297 and may have contributed to the abandonment of the northern Colorado Plateau by the ancient Pueblo, affected a larger geographic area than originally thought. The findings indicated that this drought covered the entire southwestern United States and included drought in both the winter and early growing season.
For more than a decade, Stahle has taken core samples from trees and examined the chronology of their rings to help explain the societal impact of drought and other climate changes. Specifically, his research has added rich information to explanations about the migration of North America’s indigenous people and the demise of Mesoamerican civilization.
A recently published 1,238-year-long tree-ring chronology, the longest and most accurate of its kind for Mesoamerica, was the first to reconstruct the climate of pre-colonial Mexico on an annual basis for more than a millennium. That study identified four ancient megadroughts and their exact years. Previous research found large and epic droughts over North America during the 8th and 16th centuries.
Matt McGowan | Newswise
Value from wastewater
16.08.2017 | Hochschule Landshut
Species Richness – a false friend? Scientists want to improve biodiversity assessments
01.08.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences