An atmospheric 13C/12C reconstruction generated through removal of climate effects from tree‐ring 13C/12C measurements

Steven Leavitt, AUSTIN LONG

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9 Scopus citations


An accurate reconstruction of past 13C/12C ratios of atmospheric CO2 may provide key constraints on the historical activity of the biosphere as CO2 source or sink. Tree rings appear to be a repository of this information but there is much noise in the collection of previous reconstructions, presumably associated with site selection, radial variability, choice of representative wood chemical constituent, and subtle effects of climate on fractionation. This study attempts to avoid these pitfalls and develop a 50‐yr δ13CATM record from juniper trees (genus Juniperus), in fact, by taking advantage of the influence of climate on fractionation. Trees were harvested from suitable sites in close proximity to weather stations with monthly records of temperature and precipitation, and ring material was separated from the sections in 5‐year intervals around their full circumference. From each interval, relationships of δ13C of the cellulose fraction with mean December temperature or precipitation of the respective sites emerged, showing nearly constant slopes from one interval to the next (averaging −0.27‰ °C−1 for temperature and −0.04‰ mm−1 for precipitation) but with different intercepts. The separation of these regression lines of different intervals is interpreted as the response of the trees to the changing δ13C of atmospheric CO2 so that δ13CATM curves are constructed from this spacing. The shape of the best‐fit reconstruction suggests the biosphere has acted as a CO2 source to about 1965 but has become a sink afterward. Although there are several recent studies whose results are compatible with this interpretation, the assumptions and statistical considerations in this study would still allow an exponentially decreasing curve through the data points from 1930–1979 and therefore, other interpretations are not excluded. 1983 Blackwell Munksgaard

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)92-102
Number of pages11
JournalTellus B
Volume35 B
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1983

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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