500 years of regional forest growth variability and links to climatic extreme events in Europe

Flurin Babst, Marco Carrer, Benjamin Poulter, Carlo Urbinati, Burkhard Neuwirth, David Frank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Climatic extreme events strongly affect forest growth and thus significantly influence the inter-annual terrestrial carbon balance. As we are facing an increase in frequency and intensity of climate extremes, extensive empirical archives are required to assess continental scale impacts of temperature and precipitation anomalies. Here we divide a tree-ring network of approximately 1000 sites into fifteen groups of similar high-frequency growth variability to reconstruct regional positive and negative extreme events in different parts of Europe between 1500 and 2008. Synchronized growth maxima or minima within and among regions indicate eighteen years in the pre-instrumental period and two events in the 20th century (1948, 1976) with extensive radial growth fluctuations. Comparisons with instrumental data showed that the European tree-ring network mirrors the spatial extent of temperature and precipitation extremes, but the interpretation of pre-instrumental events is challenged by lagged responses to off-growing season climate extremes. We were able to attribute growth minima in subsequent years to unfavourable August-October conditions and to mild climate during winter months associated with respiratory carbon losses. Our results emphasize the importance of carry-over effects and species-specific growth characteristics for forest productivity. Furthermore, they promote the use of regional tree-ring chronologies in research related to climate variability and terrestrial carbon sink dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number045705
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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