Snowpack signals in North American tree rings

Bethany L. Coulthard, Kevin J. Anchukaitis, Gregory T. Pederson, Edward Cook, Jeremy Littell, Dan J. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

Climate change has contributed to recent declines in mountain snowpack and earlier runoff, which in turn have intensified hydrological droughts in western North America. Climate model projections suggest that continued and severe snowpack reductions are expected over the 21st century, with profound consequences for ecosystems and human welfare. Yet the current understanding of trends and variability in mountain snowpack is limited by the relatively short and strongly temperature forced observational record. Motivated by the urgent need to better understand snowpack dynamics in a long-term, spatially coherent framework, here we examine snow-growth relationships in western North American tree-ring chronologies. We present an extensive network of snow-sensitive proxy data to support high space/time resolution paleosnow reconstruction, quantify and interpret the type and spatial density of snow related signals in tree-ring records, and examine the potential for regional bias in the tree-ring based reconstruction of different snow drought types (dry versus warm). Our results indicate three distinct snow-growth relationships in tree-ring chronologies: moisture-limited snow proxies that include a spring temperature signal, moisture-limited snow proxies lacking a spring temperature signal, and energy-limited snow proxies. Each proxy type is based on distinct physiological tree-growth mechanisms related to topographic and climatic site conditions, and provides unique information on mountain snowpack dynamics that can be capitalized upon within a statistical reconstruction framework. This work provides a platform and foundational background required for the accelerated production of high-quality annually resolved snowpack reconstructions from regional to high (<12 km) spatial scales in western North America and, by extension, will support an improved understanding of the vulnerability of snowmelt-derived water resources to natural variability and future climate warming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number034037
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume16
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Keywords

  • Dendrochronology
  • Dendroclimatology
  • Hydroclimate
  • Paleoclimatology
  • Snow drought
  • Snowpack
  • Water resources

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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