Tree rings reveal hydroclimatic fingerprints of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation on the Tibetan Plateau

  • Lixin LyuEmail author
  • Ulf Büntgen
  • Kerstin Treydte
  • Kailiang Yu
  • Hanxue Liang
  • Frederick Reinig
  • Daniel Nievergelt
  • Mai-He Li
  • Paolo Cherubini


Predicting hydroclimatic changes on the Tibetan Plateau (TP) is crucial for managing water and ecosystems for the well-being of millions of people. Our understanding of the synoptic conditions on the TP is, however, still limited due to the paucity of meteorological measurements and proxy-based, high-resolution climate reconstructions. Here, we use state-of-the-art dendroclimatological techniques to investigate the paleoclimatic potential of drought-sensitive Picea likiangensis var. balfouriana forests between 4000 and 4500 m asl on the southeastern TP (SETP). The newly developed tree-ring width chronology correlates significantly with yearly changes in regional relative air humidity (RH) (r = 0.85, P < 0.001, 1978–2011). A new 407-year-long reconstruction of RH over the hydrological year from previous year August to July of the year of ring formation shows that, despite the generally humid conditions, four of the ten driest years are observed in the twentieth century with 1983 having been the driest. On the other hand, seven out of the ten most humid years were found in the eighteenth century. Our reconstruction reveals that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is the dominant climate driver at multi-decadal scales, but the relationships are not stable over time, with unknown underlying mechanisms. Although our study demonstrates the importance of the PDO for hydroclimate projections on the TP, caution is advised when considering only its most recent fluctuations.


Climate dynamics Dendroclimatology Drought extremes Hydroclimate Proxy reconstruction Relative humidity Tree rings 



This research was supported by the Natural Science Foundation of China (Grants Nos. 31330015 and 41771060) and the China Scholarship Council (No. 201770490418). The climate data were obtained from the weather information centre of the China Meteorological Administration. We are grateful to the Tibetan Forestry Bureau for permitting field sampling and the field work team for collecting tree-ring samples. We are also grateful to Prof. Qi-Bin Zhang for commenting on the early version of the manuscript and to Erin Gleeson for editing English texts.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have declared no conflicts of interest for this article.

Supplementary material

382_2019_4629_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.2 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 3295 KB)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of BotanyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Swiss Federal Research Institute WSLBirmensdorfSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of GeographyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  4. 4.Global Change Research Centre (CzechGlobe)BrnoCzech Republic
  5. 5.Department of Geography, Faculty of ScienceMasaryk UniversityBrnoCzech Republic
  6. 6.Institute of Integrative BiologyETH ZürichZurichSwitzerland
  7. 7.Key Laboratory of Vegetation Restoration and Management of Degraded Ecosystems, South China Botanical GardenChinese Academy of SciencesGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China

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