The North American monsoon in the U.S. Southwest: Potential for investigation with tree-ring carbon isotopes

Steven W. Leavitt, Connie A. Woodhouse, Christopher L. Castro, W. Edward Wright, David M. Meko, Ramzi Touchan, Daniel Griffin, Brittany Ciancarelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The North American Monsoon (NAM) contributes critical summer moisture to the U.S. Southwest from July through September, but instrumental records of monsoon precipitation are limited to 100 years or less. Tree-ring investigation offers a means of improving our understanding of its long-term spatial and temporal variability. Available evidence indicates the stable-carbon isotopic composition (δ13C) of tree rings in this region is strongly linked to moisture. In addition to latewood width as a precipitation proxy, the δ13C of latewood also appears to be a strong proxy, largely manifesting water stress effects on stomatal conductance and their consequence to isotopic discrimination against 13CO2. In one promising study, the δ13C of 11 years of latewood from 8 sites regressed against their corresponding precipitation exhibited a coefficient of -0.061‰ per cm of July + August + September precipitation (r2 = 0.41). Long latewood δ13C chronologies are currently being developed from tree rings of ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir at several sites in NAM core regions in the Southwest to evaluate its usefulness in supplementing precipitation reconstructions derived from latewood widths. Among planned outcomes, the improved monsoon precipitation records can be used to better evaluate natural variability of NAM precipitation and its linkage to winter precipitation, document the character of monsoon season droughts, and test accuracy of regional climate models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-107
Number of pages7
JournalQuaternary International
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Apr 15 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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