A new 368-year tree-ring chronology (A.D. 1643–2010) has been developed in western North Dakota using plains cottonwood (Populus deltoids subsp. monilifera) growing on the relatively undisturbed floodplain of the Little Missouri River in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We document many slow-growing living trees between 150–370 years old that contradict the common understanding that cottonwoods grow fast and die young. In this northern location, cottonwood produces distinct annual rings with dramatic interannual variability that strongly crossdate. The detrended tree-ring chronology is significantly positively correlated with local growing season precipitation and soil moisture conditions (r = 0.69). This time series shows periods of prolonged low radial tree growth during the known droughts of the instrumental record (e.g. 1931–1939 and 1980–1981) and also during prehistory (e.g. 1816–1823 and 1856–1865) when other paleoclimate studies have documented droughts in this region. Tree rings of cottonwood will be a useful tool to help reconstruct climate, streamflow, and the floodplain history of the Little Missouri River and other northern river systems.
Deciphering the seasonal climate signal in tree rings
Meko, D., R. Touchan, J. Friedman, J. Edmondson, J. Scott, and E. Griffin
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Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Feb. 24-28, 2012, New York, NY
Dendroecological techniques were applied to reconstruct stand-replacing fire history in upper montane forests in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Fourteen stand-replacing fires were dated to 8 unique fire years (1842–1901) using four lines of evidence at each of 12 sites within the upper Rio Grande Basin. The four lines of evidence were (i) quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) inner-ring dates, (ii) fire-killed conifer bark-ring dates, (iii) tree-ring width changes or other morphological indicators of injury, and (iv) fire scars. The annual precision of dating allowed the identification of synchronous stand-replacing fire years among the sites, and co-occurrence with regional surface fire events previously reconstructed from a network of fire scar collections in lower elevation pine forests across the southwestern United States. Nearly all of the synchronous stand-replacing and surface fire years coincided with severe droughts, because climate variability created regional conditions where stand-replacing fires and surface fires burned across ecosystems. Reconstructed stand-replacing fires that predate substantial Anglo-American settlement in this region provide direct evidence that stand-replacing fires were a feature of high-elevation forests before extensive and intensive land-use practices (e.g., logging, railroad, and mining) began in the late 19th century.
Dating floodplain sediments using tree-ring response to burial
Floodplain sediments can be dated precisely based on the change in anatomy of tree rings upon burial. When a stem of tamarisk (Tamarix ramosissima) or sandbar willow (Salix exigua) is buried, subsequent annual rings in the buried section resemble the rings of roots: rings become narrower, vessels within the rings become larger, and transitions between rings become less distinct. We combined observations of these changes with tree-ring counts to determine the year of deposition of sedimentary beds exposed in a 150-m-long trench across the floodplain of the Rio Puerco, a rapidly filling arroyo in New Mexico. This method reliably dated most beds thicker than about 30 cm to within a year of deposition...
Landscape-scale fire history studies support fire management action at Bandelier
Streams in the plains of eastern Colorado are prone to intense floods following summer thunderstorms. Here, and in other semiarid and arid regions, channel recovery after a flood may take several decades. As a result, flood history strongly influences spatial and temporal variability in bottomland vegetation. Interpretation of these patterns must be based on understanding the long-term response of bottom land morphology and vegetation to specific floods…
Western Riparian Ecosystems: Global Change
Shifts in river flows are a central impact of climate change. These shifts affect water supply and flood hazards and alter the abundance of many native and invasive species. The effects of human-induced climate change on river flow cannot be understood, however, unless these effects can be distinguished from those of natural climate variation and water management. FORT researchers are studying tree rings of riparian cottonwoods in the Great Plains to reconstruct past environmental variation and to predict effects of future climate change. For example, along the Little Missouri River in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, we are using tree rings to reconstruct the last 300 years of flow and climate variation and to predict the potential effects of climate change on future tree growth and establishment.