Multi-century tree-ring anatomical evidence reveals increasing frequency and magnitude of spring discharge and floods in eastern boreal Canada

A. F. Nolin, J. C. Tardif, F. Conciatori, S. Kames, D. M. Meko, Y. Bergeron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


In eastern boreal Canada, variability in river discharge is poorly understood at the multi-century scale due to short instrumental records. In recent decades, increased magnitude and frequency of spring floods have raised concerns about the potential effects of climate change on flood risk. Unlike tree-ring width, flood rings have a demonstrated dendrochronological utility for reconstructing high discharge in boreal environments. In this study, twelve chronologies of earlywood vessel cross-sectional area (a new hydrological proxy) and ring width were developed from riparian Fraxinus nigra trees periodically flooded in spring. These chronologies were used as predictors of Harricana River spring discharge, which was reconstructed for the period 1771–2016. The reconstruction captured 69% of the variance over a 102-year calibration period. The reconstruction indicates that the magnitude and frequency of spring high discharge has increased since the end of the Little Ice Age (1850–1870 CE) and since 1950. The change from a multi-decadal frequency in the late 19th century to a decadal and then interannual frequency in the late 20th century is associated with an increase in snow cover over much of central-eastern Canada. The association between the reconstructed spring discharge and spring atmospheric circulation indices NINO3.4, AMO, NAO may also have changed in these periods and further work is needed to assess the stability of these associations. The correlation between reconstructed and instrumental spring discharge at the regional scale, as well as the shared features in reconstructed discharge and other paleorecords from subarctic Québec suggest a common hydrological signal across the study area and for the early 20th to 21st centuries. The unprecedently low and high spring discharge in recent decades compared to the historical natural variability of the last 250 years also suggests that the increase in flood frequency and magnitude originates from climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103444
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Atmospheric circulation
  • Climate change
  • Dendrohydrology
  • Earlywood vessels
  • Fraxinus nigra
  • Lake Duparquet

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Oceanography


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