Sierra Nevada Tree Rings and Atmospheric Circulation

TitleSierra Nevada Tree Rings and Atmospheric Circulation
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication1998
AuthorsGarfin, GM
AdvisorHughes, MK
Academic DepartmentGeoscience
UniversityUniversity of Arizona

The primary objective of this research is to investigate relationships between extremes in central Sierra Nevada tree growth, temperature and precipitation and winter and summer atmospheric circulation. Using existing Sierra Nevada chronologies, I developed two mean chronologies for the period of overlap between instrumental and tree-ring records (1900-1987), one for giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and one for treeline pines (Pinus balfouriana, Pinus albicaulis) and selected the highest and lowest quintiles of tree growth as extreme years. For these years, I constructed and analyzed maps of composite anomalies for the following climatic data: tropospheric pressure (SLP, 700 mb, 500 mb), storm track (positive vorticity advection [PVA], a variable not previously used in dendroclimatology), temperature, precipitation, and snow (a variable often assumed have the same effects on growth as winter precipitation). Results suggest that extreme growth in these trees is associated with distinct patterns of winter atmospheric circulation and snow depth that are consistent with instrumental studies for the Western U.S. The storm track and snow analyses, seldom used in dendroclimatology, added substance to inferences based on analyses of tropospheric and surface climate parameters. This study shows the strong potential for reconstruction of these variables using Sierra Nevada trees. Synthesis of these results suggests that sequoia exhibit low growth during years with meridional winter and summer circulation, winter storms primarily occluded in the Gulf of Alaska, and low snow depth; sequoia exhibit high growth during years with low winter pressure in the north Pacific, long duration storms, a SW-NE oriented storm track entering North America at the California-Oregon border, high snow depth and zonal summer flow. Treeline pines exhibit low growth during years with enhanced ridging over the eastern Pacific, cool, short duration winter storms along a northern track, low snow depth and high east Pacific summer SLP; these pines exhibit high growth during years with warm, long duration winter storms following a southern track, a quasi-PNA atmospheric circulation pattern, average snow depth and a northeastward displaced summer subtropical high. Evidence presented herein suggests that variation in extreme treeline pine growth tracks low frequency changes in north Pacific atmospheric circulation.