Seasonal and synoptic climatic drivers of tree growth in the Bighorn Mountains, WY, USA (1654–1983 CE)

Amy R. Hudson, Raquel Alfaro-Sanchez, Flurin Babst, Soumaya Belmecheri, David J.P. Moore, Valerie Trouet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


In the United States’ (US) Northern Rockies, synoptic pressure systems and atmospheric circulation drive interannual variation in seasonal temperature and precipitation. The radial growth of high-elevation trees in this semi-arid region captures this temperature and precipitation variability and provides long time series to contextualize instrumental-era variability in synoptic-scale climate patterns. Such variability in climate patterns can trigger extreme climate events, such as droughts, floods, and forest fires, which have a damaging impact on human and natural systems. We developed 11 tree-ring width (TRW) chronologies from multiple species and sites to investigate the seasonal climatic drivers of tree growth in the Bighorn Mountains, WY. A principal component analysis of the chronologies identified 54% of shared common variance (1894–2014). Tree growth (expressed by PC1) was driven by multiple seasonal climate variables: previous October and current July temperatures, as well as previous December and current April precipitation, had a positive influence on growth, whereas growth was limited by July precipitation. These seasonal growth-climate relationships corresponded to circulation patterns at higher atmospheric levels over the Bighorn Mountains. Tree growth was enhanced when the winter jet stream was in a northward position, which led to warmer winters, and when the spring jet stream was further south, which led to wetter springs. The second principal component, explaining 19% of the variance, clustered sites by elevation and was strongly related to summer temperature. We leverage this summer temperature signal in our TRW chronologies by combining it with an existing maximum latewood density (MXD) chronology in a nested approach. This allowed us to reconstruct Bighorn Mountains summer (June, July, and August) temperature (BMST) back to 1654, thus extending the instrumental temperature record by 250 years. Our BMST reconstruction explains 39–53% of the variance in regional summer temperature variability. The 1830s were the relatively coolest decade and the 1930s were the warmest decade over the reconstructed period (1654–1983 CE) – which excludes the most recent 3 decades. Our results contextualize recent drivers and trends of climate variability in the US Northern Rockies, which contributes to the information that managers of human and natural systems need in order to prepare for potential future variability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number125633
StatePublished - Dec 2019


  • Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming
  • Maximum latewood density
  • Picea engelmannii
  • Pinus contorta
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii
  • Ring width

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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