Pilot study of latewood-width of conifers as an indicator of variability of summer rainfall in the North American monsoonregion

David M. Meko, Christopher H. Baisan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


The variability of the North American Monsoon System (NAMS) is important to the precipitation climatology of Mexico and the southwestern United States. Tree-ring studies have been widely applied to climatic reconstruction in western North America, but as yet, have not addressed the NAMS. One reason is the need for highly resolved seasonal dendroclimatic information. Latewood-width, the portion of the annual tree ring laid down late in the growing season, can potentially yield such information. This paper describes a pilot study of the regional summer precipitation signal in latewood-width from a network of five Pseudotsuga menziesii chronologies developed in the heart of the region of NAMS influence in Arizona, USA. Exploratory data analysis reveals that the summer precipitation signal in latewood is strong, but not equally so over the full range of summer precipitation. Scatter in the relationship increases toward higher levels of precipitation. Adjustment for removal of inter-correlation with earlywood-width appears to strengthen the summer precipitation signal in latewood-width. To demonstrate a possible application to climatic reconstruction, the latewood precipitation signal is modelled using a nonlinear model- a binary recursive classification tree (CT) that attempts to classify summers as dry or not dry from threshold values of latewood-width. The model identifies narrow latewood-width as an effective predictor of a dry summer. Of 14 summers classified dry by latewood-width for the period 1868-1992, 13 are actually dry by the instrumental precipitation record. The results suggest that geographical expansion of coverage by latewood-width chronologies and further development of statistical methods may lead to successful reconstruction of variability of the NAMS on century time scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)697-708
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Climatology
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 2001


  • Classification tree
  • Climate reconstruction
  • Dendroclimatology
  • Monsoon
  • North America
  • Precipitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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