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A 431-Yr Reconstruction of Western Colorado Snowpack from Tree Rings

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  • 1 NOAA Paleoclimatology Program, and Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

A tree-ring-based reconstruction for 1 April snow water equivalent (SWE) is generated for the Gunnison River basin region in western Colorado. The reconstruction explains 63% of the variance in the instrumental record and extends from 1569 to 1999. When the twentieth-century part of the record is compared to the full record, the variability and extremes in the twentieth century appear representative of the long-term record. However, years of extreme SWE (low and high) and persistent low SWE events are not evenly distributed throughout the record. The twentieth century is notable for several periods that lack extreme years, and along with the nineteenth century and the second half of the eighteenth century, contains many fewer persistent low SWE events than the first half of the reconstruction. Low SWE in the western United States is associated with several circulation patterns, including the Pacific–North American (PNA) pattern and those related to El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), but the Gunnison River basin is on the edge of the area with a strong relationship to the PNA and is generally in a transitional zone with respect to regional ENSO influences. Tree-ring chronologies from Oregon and New Mexico, regions impacted by ENSO, were used as rough proxies of northwestern and southwestern U.S. winter precipitation to explore possible associations between Gunnison SWE and winter climate in these two regions over the past four centuries.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Connie A. Woodhouse, NOAA Paleoclimatology Program, National Geophysical Data Center, 325 Broadway, E/CC23, Boulder, CO 80305. Connie.Woodhouse@noaa.gov

Abstract

A tree-ring-based reconstruction for 1 April snow water equivalent (SWE) is generated for the Gunnison River basin region in western Colorado. The reconstruction explains 63% of the variance in the instrumental record and extends from 1569 to 1999. When the twentieth-century part of the record is compared to the full record, the variability and extremes in the twentieth century appear representative of the long-term record. However, years of extreme SWE (low and high) and persistent low SWE events are not evenly distributed throughout the record. The twentieth century is notable for several periods that lack extreme years, and along with the nineteenth century and the second half of the eighteenth century, contains many fewer persistent low SWE events than the first half of the reconstruction. Low SWE in the western United States is associated with several circulation patterns, including the Pacific–North American (PNA) pattern and those related to El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), but the Gunnison River basin is on the edge of the area with a strong relationship to the PNA and is generally in a transitional zone with respect to regional ENSO influences. Tree-ring chronologies from Oregon and New Mexico, regions impacted by ENSO, were used as rough proxies of northwestern and southwestern U.S. winter precipitation to explore possible associations between Gunnison SWE and winter climate in these two regions over the past four centuries.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Connie A. Woodhouse, NOAA Paleoclimatology Program, National Geophysical Data Center, 325 Broadway, E/CC23, Boulder, CO 80305. Connie.Woodhouse@noaa.gov

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