Solar and volcanic fingerprints in tree-ring chronologies over the past 2000years

Petra Breitenmoser, Jürg Beer, Stefan Brönnimann, David Frank, Friedhelm Steinhilber, Heinz Wanner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


The Sun is the main driver of Earth's climate, yet the Sun's role in forcing decadal-to-centennial climate variations has remained controversial, especially in the context of understanding contributions of natural climate forcings to continuing global warming. To properly address long-term fingerprints of solar forcing on climate, long-term, very high-resolution, globally distributed climate proxy records are necessary. In this study we compile and evaluate a near global collection of annually-resolved tree-ring-based climate proxies spanning the past two millennia. We statistically assess these records in both the time and frequency domains for solar forcing (i.e. Total Solar Irradiance; TSI) and climate variability with emphasis on centennial time scales. Analyses in the frequency domain indicate significant periodicities in the 208-year frequency band, corresponding to the DeVries cycle of solar activity. Additionally, results from Superposed Epoch Analysis (SEA) point toward a possible solar contribution in the temperature and precipitation series. However, solar-climate associations remain weak, with for example no clear linkage distinguishable in the southwestern United States drought records at centennial time scales. Other forcing factors, namely volcanic activity, appear to mask the solar signal in space and time. To investigate this hypothesis, we attempted to extract volcanic signals from the temperature proxies using a statistical modelling approach. Wavelet analysis of the volcanic contribution reveals significant periodicities near the DeVries frequency during the Little Ice Age (LIA). This remarkable and coincidental superposition of the signals makes it very difficult to separate volcanic and solar forcing during the LIA. Nevertheless, the "volcano free" temperature records show significant periodicities near the DeVries periodicity during the entire past 1500. years, further pointing to solar mechanisms and emphasising the need for solar related studies in the absence of strong multi-decadal volcanic forcing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-139
Number of pages13
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate variability
  • DeVries solar cycle
  • Past two millennia
  • TSI
  • Tree-ring proxies
  • Volcanic activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


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