Tree-ring data from subalpine conifers in the southern Sierra Nevada were used to reconstruct temperature and precipitation back to A.D. 800. Tree growth of foxtail pine (Pinus balfouriana) and western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis ssp. australis) is influenced by nonlinear interactions between summer temperature and winter precipitation. Reconstruction of the separate histories of temperature and precipitation is feasible by explicitly modeling species and site differences in climatic response using response surfaces. The summer temperature reconstruction shows fluctuations on centennial and longer time scales including a period with temperatures exceeding late 20th-century values from ca. 1100 to 1375 A.D., corresponding to the Medieval Warm Period identified in other proxy data sources, and a period of cold temperatures from ca. 1450 to 1850, corresponding to the Little Ice Age. Precipitation variation is dominated by shorter period, decadal-scale oscillations. The long-term record presented here indicates that the 20th century is anomalous with respect to precipitation variation. A tabulation of 20- and 50-yr means indicates that precipitation equaling or exceeding 20th-century levels occurred infrequently in the 1000+-yr record.
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