Climate Dynamics

, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 1517-1526

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Five millennia of paleotemperature from tree-rings in the Great Basin, USA

  • Matthew W. SalzerAffiliated withLaboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona Email author 
  • , Andrew G. BunnAffiliated withDepartment of Environmental Sciences, Western Washington University
  • , Nicholas E. GrahamAffiliated withHydrologic Research Center
  • , Malcolm K. HughesAffiliated withLaboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona


The instrumental temperature record is of insufficient length to fully express the natural variability of past temperature. High elevation tree-ring widths from Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) are a particularly useful proxy to infer temperatures prior to the instrumental record in that the tree-rings are annually dated and extend for millennia. From ring-width measurements integrated with past treeline elevation data we infer decadal- to millennial-scale temperature variability over the past 4,500 years for the Great Basin, USA. We find that twentieth century treeline advances are greater than in at least 4,000 years. There is also evidence for substantial volcanic forcing of climate in the preindustrial record and considerable covariation between high elevation tree-ring widths and temperature estimates from an atmosphere–ocean general circulation model over much of the last millennium. A long-term temperature decline of ~−1.1 °C since the mid-Holocene underlies substantial volcanic forcing of climate in the preindustrial record.


Dendroclimatology Bristlecone Pine Treeline Holocene Tree-Rings Paleotemperature