Formation, structure and climatic significance of blue rings and frost rings in high elevation bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva D.K. Bailey)

J. C. Tardif, M. W. Salzer, F. Conciatori, A. G. Bunn, M. K. Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The study of anatomical irregularities in tree rings has recently gained momentum as a complement to traditional tree-ring measurements as they may provide information on extreme climatic events. Two anomalies, blue rings (BR) and frost rings (FR), were analyzed in bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva D.K. Bailey) trees located along an elevation gradient in northeastern Nevada. These two subannual ring anomalies were systematically compiled for two periods; one centered on 536 CE (well-known for a volcanically-induced period of climatic cooling) and the other on 1965 CE (useful due to the availability of instrumental climate data). During the period 523–545 CE (n ≥ 10 trees), both BR and latewood FR (LWFR) were recorded abundantly in 532 and 536, as well as a BR cluster from 539 to 542 CE. Years when trees solely recorded a BR (without an accompanying LWFR) were more frequent in the earlier period than in the modern period (1954–2006 CE; n ≥ 10 trees) when both anomalies tended to co-occur. These results suggest a shorter growing season in the 536 period than in the 20th century. Modern BR/LWFR were most abundant in 1965 and 1978 CE. Both anomalies were mainly observed in the highest elevation trees and both were produced in years characterized by cooler than average temperatures throughout the growing season. Anatomically, BR and LWFR did not differ significantly in tracheid dimensions except that LWFR clearly showed damages associated with sub-freezing temperatures. The main feature distinguishing BR and LWFR from “normal” tree rings was a significant reduction in latewood secondary wall thickness. In P. longaeva, BR like pale latewood (light) rings, result from short and cool growing seasons which leads to reduced (or interrupted) lignification of tracheids. In species producing extremely narrow latewood like P. longaeva it may be difficult to macroscopically identify pale latewood years, thus rendering microscopic investigation of BR as a climate proxy useful in paleoclimatic research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106516
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - Sep 15 2020


  • 536 and 1965 CE
  • Climate extremes
  • Dust veil
  • High elevation
  • Holocene
  • Latewood tracheid
  • North America
  • Paleoclimatology
  • Tree rings
  • Volcanic eruption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Geology


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