Skip to main content

Bristlecone pine tree rings and volcanic eruptions over the last 5000 yr

  • Matthew W. Salzer and Malcolm K. Hughes

Many years of low growth identified in a western USA regional chronology of upper forest border bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva and Pinus aristata) over the last 5000 yr coincide with known large explosive volcanic eruptions and/or ice core signals of past eruptions. Over the last millennium the agreement between the tree-ring data and volcano/ice-core data is high: years of ring-width minima can be matched with known volcanic eruptions or ice-core volcanic signals in 86% of cases. In previous millennia, while there is substantial concurrence, the agreement decreases with increasing antiquity. Many of the bristlecone pine ring-width minima occurred at the same time as ring-width minima in high latitude trees from northwestern Siberia and/or northern Finland over the past 4000–5000 yr, suggesting climatically-effective events of at least hemispheric scale. In contrast with the ice-core records, the agreement between widely separated tree-ring records does not decrease with increasing antiquity. These data suggest specific intervals when the climate system was or was not particularly sensitive enough to volcanic forcing to affect the trees, and they augment the ice core record in a number of ways: by providing confirmation from an alternative proxy record for volcanic signals, by suggesting alternative dates for eruptions, and by adding to the list of years when volcanic events of global significance were likely, including the mid-2nd-millennium BC eruption of Thera.

Corresponding author
Corresponding author. Fax: +1 520 621 8229. E-mail address: (M.W. Salzer).
Hide All
Ammann, C.M., and Naveau, P. Statistical analysis of tropical explosive volcanism occurrences over the last 6 centuries. Geophysical Research Letters 30, (2003). 1210 doi:
Baillie, M.G.L. Dendrochronology raises questions about the nature of the AD 536 dust-veil event. The Holocene 4, (1994). 212217.
Baillie, M.G.L., and Munro, M.A.R. Irish tree rings, Santorini and volcanic dust veils. Nature 332, (1988). 344346.
Barber, V.A., Juday, G.P., and Finney, B.P. Reduced growth of Alaskan white spruce in the twentieth century from temperature induced drought stress. Nature 405, (2000). 668673.
Bradley, R.S. The explosive volcanic eruption signal in Northern Hemisphere continental temperature records. Climatic Change 12, (1988). 221243.
Briffa, K.R., Schweingruber, F.H., Jones, P.D., Osborn, T.J., Shiyatov, S.G., and Vaganov, E.A. Reduced sensitivity of recent tree-growth to temperature at high northern latitudes. Nature 391, (1998). 678682.
Briffa, K.R., Jones, P.D., Schweingruber, F.H., and Osborn, T.J. Influence of volcanic eruptions on Northern Hemisphere summer temperature over the past 600 years. Nature 393, (1998). 450455.
Bronk-Ramsey, C., Manning, S.W., and Galimberti, M. Dating the volcanic eruption at Thera. Radiocarbon 46, (2004). 325344.
Budner, D., and Cole-Dai, J. The number and magnitude of explosive volcanic eruptions between 904 and 1865 A.D.: Quantitative evidence from a new South Pole ice core, in Volcanism and the Earth's Atmosphere. Robock, A., and Oppenheimer, C. (2003). American Geophysical Union, 165176. doi:
Clausen, H.B., Hammer, C.U., Hvidberg, C.S., Dahl-Jensen, D., Steffensen, J.P., Kipfstuhl, J., and Legrand, M. A comparison of volcanic records over the past 4000 years from the Greenland Ice Core Project and Dye 3 Greenland ice cores. Journal of Geophysical Research 102, (1997). 2670726723.
Cole-Dai, J., Mosley-Thompson, E., and Thompson, L.G. Annually resolved southern hemisphere volcanic history from two Antarctic ice cores. Journal of Geophysical Research 102, (1997). 1676116771.
Cook, E.R., (1985). A Time Series Approach to Tree-Ring Standardization. Ph.D. Dissertion, Laboratory or Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson.
Cook, E.R., Briffa, K.R., Shiyatov, S., and Mazepa, V. Tree-ring standardization and growth-trend estimation. Cook, E.R., and Kairiukstis, L.A. Methods of Dendrochronology: Applications in the Environmental Sciences, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. (1990). Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston. 104123.
Cook, E.R., Briffa, K.R., Meko, D.M., Graybill, D.A., and Funkhouser, G. The segment length curse in long tree-ring chronology development for palaeoclimatic studies. The Holocene 5, (1995). 229235.
Cook, E.R., Meko, D.M., Stahle, D.W., and Cleaveland, M.K. Drought reconstructions for the continental United States. Journal of Climate 12, (1999). 11451162.
Crowley, T.J. Causes of climate change over the past 1000 years. Science 289, (2000). 270277.
Crowley, T.J., Criste, T.A., and Smith, N.R. Reassessment of Crete (Greenland) ice core acidity/volcanism link to climate change. Geophysical Research Letters 20, (1993). 209212.
D'Arrigo, R., Jacoby, G., Frank, D., Pederson, N., Cook, E., Buckley, B., Nachin, B., Mijiddorj, R., and Dugarav, C. 1738 years of Mongolian temperature variability inferred from a tree-ring width chronology of Siberian Pine. Geophysical Research Letters 28, 3 (2001). 543546.
Free, M., and Robock, A. Global warming in the context of the Little Ice Age. Geophysical Research Letters 104, (1999). 1905719070.
Fritts, H.C. Tree Rings and Climate. (1976). Academic Press, New York.
Fritts, H.C. Reconstructing Large-Scale Climatic Patterns from Tree-Ring Data. (1991). University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Graybill, D.A., and Idso, S.B. Detecting the aerial fertilization effect of atmospheric CO2 enrichment in tree-ring chronologies. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 7, (1993). 8195.
Hammer, C.U., Clausen, H.B., and Dansgaard, W. Greenland ice sheet evidence of post-glacial volcanism and its climatic impact. Nature 288, (1980). 230235.
Hammer, C.U., Kurat, G., Hoppe, P., Grum, W., and Clausen, H.B. Thera eruption date 1645 BC confirmed by new ice core data?. Bietak, M. The synchronisation of civilisations in the eastern Mediterranean in the second millennium BC II. Proceedings of the SCIEM2000 Euroconference, Haindorf, 2–7 May 2001, Vienna (2003). 8794.
Hantemirov, R.M., and Shiyatov, S.G. A continuous multimillennial ring-width chronology in Yamal, northwestern Siberia. Holocene 12, 6 (2002). 717726.
Helama, S., Lindholm, M., Timonen, M., Meriläinen, J., and Eronen, M. The supra-long Scots pine tree-ring record for Finnish Lapland: Part 2, interannual to centennial variability in summer temperatures for 7500 years. Holocene 12, (2002). 681687.
Holmes, R.L. Computer-assisted quality control in tree-ring dating and measuring. Tree-Ring Bulletin 43, (1983). 6978.
Hughes, M.K., and Funkhouser, G. Frequency-dependent climate signal in upper and lower forest border trees in the mountains of the Great Basin. Climatic Change 59, (2003). 233244.
Hughes, M.K., Vaganov, E.A., Shiyatov, S., Touchan, R., and Funkhouser, G. Twentieth-century summer warmth in northern Yakutia in a 600 year context. The Holocene 9, (1999). 603608.
Jones, P.D., Briffa, K.R., and Schweingruber, F.H. Tree-ring evidence of the widespread effects of explosive volcanic eruptions. Geophysical Research Letters 22, (1995). 13331336.
Keenan, D.J. Volcanic ash retrieved from the GRIP ice core is not from Thera. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 4, 11 (2003). 1 (CiteID 1097, doi:
Kelly, P.M., Jones, P.D., and Pengqun, J. The spatial response of the climate system to explosive volcanic eruptions. International Journal of Climatology 16, (1996). 537550.
Lacis, A., and Sato, M. Climate forcing by stratospheric aerosols. Geophysical Research Letters 19, (1992). 16071610.
LaMarche, V.C. Jr. Paleoclimatic inferences from long tree-ring records. Science 183, (1974). 10431048.
LaMarche, V.C., and Hirschboeck, K.K. Frost rings in trees as records of major volcanic eruptions. Nature 307, (1984). 121126.
LaMarche, V.C. Jr, and Stockton, C.W. Chronologies from temperature-sensitive bristlecone pines at upper treeline in western United States. Tree-Ring Bulletin 34, (1974). 2145.
LaMarche, V.C. Jr., Graybill, D.A., Fritts, H.C., and Rose, M.R. Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide: tree-ring evidence for growth enhancement in natural vegetation. Science 225, (1984). 10191021.
Langway, C.C., Osada, K., Clausen, H.B., Hammer, C.U., and Shoji, H. A 10-century comparison of prominent bipolar volcanic events in ice cores. Journal of Geophysical Research 100, (1995). 1624116247.
Lough, J.M., and Fritts, H.C. An assessment of the possible effects of volcanic eruptions on North American climate using tree-ring data, 1602 to 1900 A.D.. Climatic Change 10, (1987). 219239.
Mann, M.E., Bradley, R.S., and Hughes, M.K. Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries. Nature 392, (1998). 779787.
Manning, S.W., Bronk-Ramsey, C., Doumas, C., Marketou, T., Cadogan, G., and Pearson, C.L. New evidence for an early date for the Aegean Late Bronze Age and Thera eruption. Antiquity 76, (2002). 733744.
McMormick, M.P., Thomason, L.W., and Trepte, C.R. Atmospheric effects of the Mount Pinatubo eruption. Nature 373, (1995). 399404.
Minnis, P., Harrison, E.F., Stowe, L.L., Gibson, G.G., Denn, F.M., Doelling, D.R., Smith, W.L. Jr. Radiative climate forcing by the Mount Pinatubo eruption. Science 259, (1993). 14111415.
Mooney, C.Z., Duval, R.D., (1993). Bootstrapping: a nonparametric approach to statistical inference. Sage University Paper series on quantitative applications in the social sciences, no. 7–95, 73 pp. Sage Publications, Newbury Park, California.
Osborn, T.J., Briffa, K.R., and Jones, P.D. Adjusting variance for sample size in tree-ring chronologies and other regional mean timeseries. Dendrochronologia 15, (1997). 8999.
Pearce, N.J.G., Westgate, J.A., Preece, S.J., Eastwood, W.J., and Perkins, W.T. Identification of Aniakchak (Alaska) tephra in Greenland ice core challenges the 1645 BC date for Minoan eruption of Santorini. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 5, 3 (2004). QO3005 (doi:
Porter, S.C. Pattern and forcing of Northern Hemisphere glacier variations during the last millennium. Quaternary Research 26, (1986). 2748.
Rampino, M.R., and Self, S. Historic eruptions of Tambora (1815), Krakatau (1883), and Agung (1963), their stratospheric aerosols, and climatic impact. Quaternary Research 18, (1982). 127143.
Robock, A. Internally and externally caused climate change. Journal of Atmospheric Science 35, (1978). 11111122.
Robock, A., and Mao, J. Winter warming from large volcanic eruptions. Geophysical Research Letters 19, (1992). 24052408.
Robock, A., and Free, M.P. The volcanic record in ice cores for the past 2000 years, Climatic Variations and Forcing Mechanisms of the Last 200 Years. Jones, P.D., Bradley, R.S., and Jouzel, J. (1996). Springer-Verlag New York, 533546.
Rutherford, S., Mann, M.E., Osborn, T.J., Bradley, R.S., Briffa, K.R., Hughes, M.K., and Jones, P.D. Proxy-based Northern hemisphere surface temperature reconstructions: sensitivity to methodology, predictor network, target season and target domain. Journal of Climate 18, (2005). 23082329.
Salzer, M.W. Temperature variability and the Northern Anasazi: possible implications for regional abandonment. Kiva 64, 4 (2000). 295318.
Salzer, M.W., and Kipfmueller, K.F. Reconstructed temperature and precipitation on a millennial timescale from tree-rings in the southern Colorado Plateau, USA. Climatic Change 70, (2005). 465487.
Scuderi, L.A. Tree-ring evidence for climatically effective volcanic eruptions. Quaternary Research 34, (1990). 6785.
Scuderi, L.A. Climatically effective volcanism. Quaternary Research 37, (1992). 130135.
Shindell, D., Schmidt, G.A., Mann, M.E., Rind, D., and Waple, A. Solar forcing of regional climate change during the Maunder Minimum. Science 294, (2001). 21492152.
Shindell, D., Schmidt, G.A., Miller, R.L., and Mann, M.E. Volcanic and solar forcing of climate change during the Preindustrial Era. Journal of Climate 16, (2003). 40944107.
Simkin, T., and Siebert, L. Volcanoes of the World: A Regional Directory, Gazetteer, and Chronology of Volcanism During the last 10,000 Years. 2nd ed. (1994). Geoscience Press, Tucson, AZ. 349 pp.
Stothers, R.B. Mystery cloud of AD 536. Nature 307, (1984). 344345.
Stothers, R.B., and Rampino, M.R. Volcanic eruptions in the Mediterranean before A.D. 630 from written and archaeological sources. Journal of Geophysical Research 88, (1983). 63576371.
Vaganov, E.A., Hughes, M.K., Kirdyanov, A.V., Schweingruber, F.H., and Silkin, P.P. Influence of snowfall and melt timing on tree growth in subarctic Eurasia. Nature 400, (1999). 149151.
Wiener, M.H., in press. Times change: the current state of the debate in old world chronology. Proceedings of the 2nd EuroConference of “SCIEM 2000”, 28 May–1 June 2003, Vienna.
Wilmking, M.R., D'Arrigo, R., Jacoby, G.C., and Juday, G.P. Increased temperature sensitivity and divergent growth trends in circumpolar boreal forests. Geophysical Research Letters 32, (2005). L15715 doi:
Zielinski, G.A. Stratospheric loading and optical depth estimates of explosive volcanism over the last 2100 years derived from the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 ice core. Journal of Geophysical Research 100, (1995). 2093720955.
Zielinski, G.A., Mayewski, P.A., Meeker, L.D., Whitlow, S., Twickler, M.S., Morrison, M., Meese, D.A., Gow, A.J., and Alley, R.B. Record of volcanism since 7000 B.C. from the GISP2 Greenland ice core and implications for the volcano–climate system. Science 264, (1994). 948952.
Zielinski, G.A., Mayewski, P.A., Meeker, L.D., Grönvold, K., Germani, M.S., Whitlow, S., Twickler, M.S., and Taylor, K. Volcanic aerosol records and tephrochronology of the Summit, Greenland, ice cores. Journal of Geophysical Research 102, C12 (1997). 2662526640. doi:
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Quaternary Research
  • ISSN: 0033-5894
  • EISSN: 1096-0287
  • URL: /core/journals/quaternary-research
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed