Climate Dynamics

, 26:677 | Cite as

Tree-ring reconstructed rainfall variability in Zimbabwe

  • Matthew D. TherrellEmail author
  • David W. Stahle
  • Lydia P. Ries
  • Herman H. Shugart


We present the first tree-ring reconstruction of rainfall in tropical Africa using a 200-year regional chronology based on samples of Pterocarpus angolensis from Zimbabwe. The regional chronology is significantly correlated with summer rainfall (November–February) from 1901 to 1948, and the derived reconstruction explains 46% of the instrumental rainfall variance during this period. The reconstruction is well correlated with indices of the El Niño-southern oscillation (ENSO), and national maize yields. An aridity trend in instrumental rainfall beginning in about 1960 is partially reproduced in the reconstruction, and similar trends are evident in the nineteenth century. A decadal-scale drought reconstructed from 1882 to 1896 matches the most severe sustained drought during the instrumental period (1989–1995), and is confirmed in part by documentary evidence. An even more severe drought is indicated from 1859 to 1868 in both the tree-ring and documentary data, but its true magnitude is uncertain. A 6-year wet period at the turn of the nineteenth century (1897–1902) exceeds any wet episode during the instrumental era. The reconstruction exhibits spectral power at ENSO, decadal and multi-decadal frequencies. Composite analysis of global sea surface temperature during unusually wet and dry years also suggests a linkage between reconstructed rainfall and ENSO.


Ring Width Maize Yield Southern Oscillation Index Rainfall Series Verification Period 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research was supported by The University of Virginia Center for Regional Environmental Studies and NASA Award NNG-04-GM71G, and the US National Science Foundation Earth System History Program (ATM-0400713 ). We thank C. Bullen, E. February, F. Fye, G. Haynes, M. Mukelabai, P. Mushove (deceased) D. Ngwako, The Botswana Department of Agriculture, Rangeland Ecology Division, The Zambian Meteorological Department, The Zimbabwe Forest Industries Training Center, Mutare, The Zimbabwe Forestry Commision, The Zimbabwe Forest Research Center, Harare.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew D. Therrell
    • 1
    Email author
  • David W. Stahle
    • 2
  • Lydia P. Ries
    • 1
  • Herman H. Shugart
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeosciencesUniversity of ArkansasFayettevilleUSA

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