Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Tree rings reveal nightmare droughts in Western U.S.

Date:
May 1, 2014
Source:
Brigham Young University
Summary:
Scientists extended Utah's climate record back to 1429 using tree rings. They found Utah's climate has seen extreme droughts, including one that lasted 16 years. If history is repeated in the rapidly growing Western states, the water supply would run out based on current consumption.

Scientists extended Utah's climate record back to 1429 using tree rings. They found Utah's climate has seen extreme droughts, including one that lasted 16 years.
Credit: Image courtesy of Brigham Young University

If you think the 1930s drought that caused The Dust Bowl was rough, new research looking at tree rings in the Rocky Mountains has news for you: Things can get much worse in the West.

In fact the worst drought of this century barely makes the top 10 of a study that extended Utah's climate record back to the year 1429.

With sandpaper and microscopes, Brigham Young University professor Matthew Bekker analyzed rings from drought-sensitive tree species. He found several types of scenarios that could make life uncomfortable in what is now the nation's third-fastest-growing state:

  • Long droughts: The year 1703 kicked off 16 years in a row with below average stream flow.
  • Intense droughts: The Weber River flowed at just 13 percent of normal in 1580 and dropped below 20 percent in three other periods.
  • Consecutive worst-case scenarios: The most severe drought in the record began in 1492, and four of the five worst droughts all happened during Christopher Columbus' lifetime.

"We're conservatively estimating the severity of these droughts that hit before the modern record, and we still see some that are kind of scary if they were to happen again," said Bekker, a geography professor at BYU. "We would really have to change the way we do things here."

Modern climate and stream flow records only go back about 100 years in this part of the country, so scientists like Bekker turn to Mother Nature's own record-keeping to see the bigger picture. For this study, the BYU geographer took sample cores from Douglas fir and pinyon pine trees. The thickness of annual growth rings for these species is especially sensitive to water supply.

Using samples from both living and dead trees in the Weber River basin, the researchers built a tree-ring chronology that extends back 585 years into Utah's natural history. Modern stream flow measurements helped them calibrate the correlation between ring thickness and drought severity.

As Bekker and his co-authors report in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association, the west's climate usually fluctuates far more than it did in the 1900s. The five previous centuries each saw more years of extremely dry and extremely wet climate conditions.

"We're trying to work with water managers to show the different flavors of droughts this region has had," said Bekker. "These are scenarios you need to build into your models to know how to plan for the future."

Bekker collaborated with researchers from the U.S. Forest Service, Columbia University and Utah State University. The team is currently working on a climate reconstruction based on tree rings that date back more than 1,000 years.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Brigham Young University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Matthew F. Bekker, R. Justin DeRose, Brendan M. Buckley, Roger K. Kjelgren, Nathan S. Gill. A 576-Year Weber River Streamflow Reconstruction from Tree Rings for Water Resource Risk Assessment in the Wasatch Front, Utah. JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/jawr.12191

Cite This Page:

Brigham Young University. "Tree rings reveal nightmare droughts in Western U.S.." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140501101123.htm>.
Brigham Young University. (2014, May 1). Tree rings reveal nightmare droughts in Western U.S.. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140501101123.htm
Brigham Young University. "Tree rings reveal nightmare droughts in Western U.S.." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140501101123.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

AP (July 29, 2014) Food scraps and other items left on the grounds by picnickers brings unwelcome visitors to the grounds of the world famous and popular Louvre Museum in Paris. (July 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jane Goodall Warns Great Apes Face Extinction

Jane Goodall Warns Great Apes Face Extinction

AFP (July 29, 2014) The world's great apes face extinction within decades, renowned chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall warned Tuesday in a call to arms to ensure man's closest relatives are not wiped out. Duration: 00:58 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

Newsy (July 29, 2014) Researchers have found certain facial features can make us seem more attractive or trustworthy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rat Infestation at Paris' Tuileries Garden

Rat Infestation at Paris' Tuileries Garden

AFP (July 29, 2014) An infestation of rats is causing concern among tourists at Paris' most famous park -- the Tuileries garden next to the Louvre Museum. Duration: 00:54 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins