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Holocene Climatic Variations Inferred from Treeline Fluctuations in the White Mountains, California

  • Valmore C. LaMarche (a1)

Remains of dead bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva Bailey) are found at altitudes up to 150 m above present treeline in the White Mountains. Standing snags and remnants in two study areas were mapped and sampled for dating by tree-ring and radiocarbon methods. The oldest remnants represent trees established more than 7400 y.a. Experimental and empirical evidence indicates that the position of the treeline is closely related to warm-season temperatures, but that precipitation may also be important in at least one of the areas. The upper treeline was at high levels in both areas until after about 2200 B.C., indicating warm-season temperatures about 3.5°F higher than those of the past few hundred years. However, the record is incomplete, relative warmth may have been maintained until at least 1500 B.C. Cooler and wetter conditions are indicated for the period 1500 B.C.-500 B.C., followed by a period of cool but drier climate. A major treeline decline occurred between about A.D. 1100 and A.D. 1500, probably reflecting onset of cold and dry conditions. High reproduction rates and establishment of scattered seedlings at high altitudes within the past 100 yr represents an incipient treeline advance, which reflected a general climatic warming beginning in the mid-19th century that has lasted until recent decades in the western United States. This evidence for climatic variation is broadly consistent with the record of Neoglacial advances in the North American Cordillera, and supports Antevs' concept of a warm “altithermal age” in the Great Basin.

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Quaternary Research
  • ISSN: 0033-5894
  • EISSN: 1096-0287
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