Monday, February 18, 2013

Tree-ring data show history, pattern to droughts

University of Arkansas Newswire: 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...

Tree rings shot by Lokilech, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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