, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 191-199

Tree-ring records from New Zealand: long-term context for recent warming trend

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Abstract

 Distinct periods of warmth have been identified in instrumental records for New Zealand and the surrounding southwest Pacific over the past 120 years. Whether this warming is due to natural climate variability or the effects of increasing greenhouse gases is difficult to determine given the limited length of instrumental record. Longer records derived from tree rings can help reduce uncertainties in detection of possible causes of climatic change, although relatively few such records have been developed for the Southern Hemisphere. In this work, we describe five temperature-sensitive tree-ring width chronologies for New Zealand which place the recent warming trend into a long-term (pre-anthropogenic) context. Included are three pink pine (Halocarpus biformis) chronologies, two for Stewart Island and one for the North Island of New Zealand. Two silver pine (Lagarostrobus colensoi) series, one each from the North and South Islands, are updated from previous work. The length of record ranges from AD 1700 for Putara, North Island to AD 1400 for Ahaura, South Island. The pink and silver pine are different species from those used previously to reconstruct temperatures for New Zealand. All five chronologies are positively and significantly correlated with warm-season (November-April) individual station temperature records, a New Zealand-wide surface air temperature index and gridded land/marine temperatures for New Zealand and vicinity. The highest 20 and 40-year growth periods in all five tree-ring series coincide with the New Zealand temperature increase after 1950. An exception is found for the 40-year interval at Ahaura, the least temperature-sensitive of the five sites. A t-test comparison indicates that these recent growth intervals are significantly higher (0.01 to 0.0001 level) than any of those prior to the twentieth century for three of the five sites, dating as far back as AD 1500. The results suggest that the recent warming has been distinctive, although not clearly unprecedented, relative to temperature conditions inferred from tree-ring records of prior centuries.

Received: 18 February 1997/Accepted: 11 September 1997