The tree-ring record of drought on the Canadian Prairies

Scott St. George, David M. Meko, Martin Philippe Girardin, Glen M. MacDonald, Erik Nielsen, Greg T. Pederson, David J. Sauchyn, Jacques C. Tardif, Emma Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Ring-width data from 138 sites in the Canadian Prairie Provinces and adjacent regions are used to estimate summer drought severity during the past several hundred years. The network was divided into five regional groups based on geography, tree species, and length of record: the eastern Rockies, northern Saskatchewan, central Manitoba, southern Manitoba, and northwestern Ontario. Regional tree-ring records are primarily related to summer moisture and drought conditions, and are less responsive to droughts caused by deficits in winter precipitation. These summer-sensitive data are not linearly related to major modes of climate variability, including ENSO and the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO), which primarily affect the climate of western Canada during winter. Extended drought records inferred from tree rings indicate that drought on the Canadian Prairies has exhibited considerable spatial heterogeneity over the last several centuries. For northern Saskatchewan and northwestern Ontario, intervals of persistently low tree growth during the twentieth century were just as long as or longer than low-growth intervals in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. Longer records from southern Alberta suggest that the most intense dry spell in that area during the last 500 yr occurred during the 1720s. At the eastern side of the prairies, the longest dry event is centered around 1700 and may coincide with low lake stands in Manitoba, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Although the Canadian Prairies were dry at times during the 1500s, there is no regional analog to the sixteenth-century "megadrought" that affected much of the western United States and northern Mexico.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)689-710
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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