Climatic Change

, Volume 79, Issue 3–4, pp 403–432 | Cite as

The 1920S Drought Recorded by Tree Rings and Historical Documents in the Semi-Arid and Arid Areas of Northern China

  • Eryuan Liang
  • Xiaohong Liu
  • Yujiang Yuan
  • Ningsheng Qin
  • Xiuqi Fang
  • Lei Huang
  • Haifeng Zhu
  • Lily Wang
  • Xuemei ShaoEmail author


Using a network of tree-ring data, we show that there had been significant growth decline in the 1920s and early 1930s throughout a wide area of northern China. This growth depression is indicative of a severe and sustained drought in the 1920s and early 1930s, which was then confirmed with a variety of historical and instrumental records including hydrological, meteorological, and documentary evidence. The 1920s drought had a devastating effect not only on agricultural productivity, hydrological resources and society in the affected areas, but also on natural vegetation, as inferred from the tree-ring network and historical records. This research offers a picture of the drought calamity during the 1920s and early 1930s in northern China, and demonstrates the potential to identify spatial anomalies of large-scale drought using tree-ring networks in the semi-arid and arid areas of northern China.


Tree Growth Tree Ring Gansu Province Tianshan Mountain Qaidam Basin 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bradley, R. S. and Jones, P. D.: 1992, Climate Since A.D. 1500, Routledge, London, p. 679.Google Scholar
  2. Bryson, R. A. and Swain, A. M.: 1981, ‘Holocene variations of monsoon rainfall in Rajasthan’, Quat. Res. 16, 135–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chen, G. R. and Cheng, G. W.: 1997, ‘Drought analysis in the upper basin of changjiang river and disaster prevention/abatement’, Resources and Environment in the Yangtze Valley 6, 74–79. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  4. Chinese Academy of Meteorological Science: 1981, Yearly Charts of Dryness/Wetness in China for the Last 500-Year Period, China Map Press, Beijing, p. 332. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  5. Chu, K. Z., Tu, C. W., and Chang, P. K.: 1936, The Chinese Rainfall, The National Research Institute of Meteorology, Academic Sinica, Beijing, p. 536. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  6. Cook, E. R.: 1992, ‘Using tree rings to study past El Nińo/Southern oscillation influences on climate’, in Diaz, H. F. and Markgraf, V. (eds), El Nińo: Historical and Paleoclimatic Aspects of the Southern Oscillation, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 203–214.Google Scholar
  7. Cook, E. R. and Kairiukstis, L.: 1990, Methods of Dendrochronology: Applications in the Environmental Sciences, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp. 23–217.Google Scholar
  8. Cook, E. R., Meko, D. M., Stahle, D. W., and Cleaveland, M. K.: 1999, ‘Drought reconstructions for the continental united states’, J. Clim. 12, 1145–1162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Damage Report: 1995, Report of the Damage Caused by Disaster in China, China Statistical Press, Beijing, pp. 1–406. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  10. de Menocal, P. B.: 2001, ‘Culture responses to climate change during the late holocene’, Science 292, 667–673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Deng, Y. T.: 1937, History of Famine Relief in China, Commercial Press, Beijing, p. 376. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  12. Dong, A. X., Hao, H. L. and Xiang, J.: 2000, ‘The analysis of several severe dry damages in historical time in northwest China’, in Xie, J. N. (ed.), The Research on Change and Prediction of Drought Climate in northwest China, China Meterological Press, Beijing, pp. 93–96. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  13. Fang, X. Q.: 1999, ‘Decline of pre-historical agriculture and formation of farming-grazing transitional zone in north China : A view from climatic changes’, J. Nat. Resour. 14, 212–218. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  14. Feng, J. X. and Ke, X. X.: 2000, ‘The variation features of the runoff in the upper reaches of the yellow river for 260 years’, in Xie, J. N. (ed.), The Research on Change and Prediction of Drought Climate in Northwest China, China Meterological Press, Beijing, pp. 166–170. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  15. Fritts, H. C.: 1974, ‘Relationships of ring widths in arid-site conifers to variations in monthly temperature and precipitation’, Ecol. Monograph. 44, 411–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fritts, H. C.: 1976, Tree Ring and Climate, Academic Press, London, p. 567.Google Scholar
  17. Fu, C. B., Diaz, H. F., Dong, D. F. and Fletcher, J. O.: 1999, ‘Changes in atmospheric circulation over northern hemisphere oceans associated with the rapid warming of the 1920s’, Int. J. Climatol. 19, 581–606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ge, Q. S. and Wang, W. Q.: 1995, ‘Population pressure, climate change and tai-ping rebellion’, Geog. Res. 14, 32–41. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  19. Grissino-Mayer, H. D.: 2001, ‘Assessing crossdating accuracy: A manual and tutorial for the computer program COFECHA’, Tree-ring Res. 57, 205–221.Google Scholar
  20. Hu, Q. and Feng, S.: 2001, ‘A southward migration of centennial-scale variations of drought/flood in eastern China and the Western United States’, J. Clim. 14, 1323–1328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Huang, C. C., Zhao, S. C., Pang, J. L., Zhou, Q. Y., Chen, S., Li, P. H., Mao, L. J. and Ding, M.: 2003, ‘Climatic aridity and the relocations of the zhou culture in the southern loess plateau of China’, Clim. Change 61, 361–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hughes, M. K., Wu, X. D., Shao, X. M. and Garfin, G. M.: 1994, ‘A preliminary reconstruction of rainfall in north-central China since A.D. 1600 from tree-ring density and width’, Quat. Res. 42, 88–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hughes, M. K. and Graumlich, L. J.: 1996, ‘Multimillennial dendroclimatic studies from the Western United States’, in Jones, P. D., Bradley, R. S. and Jouzel, J. (eds.), Climatic Variations and Forcing Mechanisms of the Last 2000 Years. NATO ASI Series 141, 109–124.Google Scholar
  24. IPCC.: 2001, Climate Change 2001: Impact, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 1031.Google Scholar
  25. Jacoby, G., Pederson, N. and D'Arrigo, R.: 2003, ‘Temperature and precipitation in mongolia based on dendroclimatic investigations’, Chin. Sci. Bull. 48, 1474–1479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kang, X. C., Cheng, G. D., Kang, E. S. and Zhang, Q. H.: 2002, ‘Mountain pass runoff reconstruction of the Heihe river during the past 1000 years using tree rings’, Sci. China (D) 32, 675–685. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  27. Li, J. F.: 1989, Xinjiang Dendroclimatological and Dendrohydrological Studies, China Meteorological Press, Beijing, p. 268. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  28. Li, X., Zhan, X. Z. and Wu, X. D.: 1992, ‘Preliminary study on drought/wet variation over Last 250 years in baotou area using tree-ring data’, Sin. Geog. Sin. 12, 143–152. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  29. Li, W. H., Cheng, X., Liu, Y. D. and Xia, M. F.: 1994 The Top Ten Natural Disasters in Modern Chinese History (1840-1949), Shanghai People's Press, Shanghai, p. 350. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  30. Liang, E. Y., Shao, X. M., Hu, Y. X. and Lin, J. X.: 2001, ‘Dendroclimatic evaluation of climate-growth relationships of meyer spruce (Picea meyeri) on a Sandy Substrate in Semi-Arid Grassland, North China’, Trees 15, 230–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Liang, E. Y., Shao, X. M., Kong, Z. C. and Lin, J. X.: 2003, ‘The extreme drought in the 1920s and its effect on tree growth deduced from tree ring analysis: A case study in north China’, Ann. For. Sci. 60, 145–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Liu, H. B. and Wu, X. D.: 1996, ‘Spatio-temporal characteristics of the low-flow period from 1922 to 1932 in the middle reaches of the yellow river’, Shaanxi Meteorol. 6, 12–15. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  33. Liu, H. B., Shao, X. M., and Huang, L.: 2002, ‘Reconstruction of early-summer drought indices in mid-north region of China after 1500 using tree ring chronologies’, Quat. Sci. 22. 220–229 (in Chinese with English abstract).Google Scholar
  34. Liu, Y. and Ma, L. M.: 1999, ‘Tree-ring seasonal precipitation reconstruction for Mt. Da Qing area, inner Mongolia, China for the last 376 years’, Chin. Sci. Bull. 44, 1986–1992 (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  35. Liu, Y., Cai, Q. F., Ma, L. M. and An, Z. S.: 2001, ‘Tree ring precipitation records from Baotou and the east Asian summer monsoon variation for the last 254 years’, Earth Sci. Frontiers 8, 91–97 (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  36. Liu, Y. and Ma, L. M.: 1999, ‘Tree-ring seasonal precipitation reconstruction for Mt. Da Qing area, inner mongolia, China for the Last 376 Years’, Chin. Sci. Bull. 44, 1986–1992 (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  37. Liu, Y., Cai, Q. F., Ma, L. M., and An, Z. S.: 2001, ‘Tree ring precipitation records from baotou and the east Asian summer monsoon variation for the last 254 years’, Earth Sci. Frontiers 8, 91–97 (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  38. Liu, Y., Shao, X. M., Wu, X. D. and Liu, H. B.: 1997, ‘Seasonal temperature and rainfall reconstruction in north-central China from tree-ring density and stable carbon isotope for the last 100 years’, Sci. in China (D) 27, 271–277. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  39. Liu, Y., Shi, J. F., Shishov, V., Vaganov, E., Yang., Y. K., Cai, Q. F., Sun, J. Y., Wang, L. and Djanseitov, I.: 2004, ‘Reconstruction of May–July precipitation in the north Helan mountain, inner mongolia since A.D. 1726 from tree-ring late-wood widths’, Chin. Sci. Bull. 49, 405–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mallory, W.: 1926, China: Land of Famine, American Geographical Society, New York, p. 199.Google Scholar
  41. Meko, D. M., Stockton, C. W. and Boggess, W. R.: 1995, ‘The tree-ring record of severe sustained drought’, Water Resour. Bull. 31, 789–801.Google Scholar
  42. Mijiddor, R. and Namhay, A.: 1983, ‘On drought and unfavorable winter conditions recurrence in Mongolia’, Transactions of the HMRI, Ulaanbaatar 11, 118–131. (in Russian)Google Scholar
  43. Neumann, J. and Dettwiller, J.: 1990, ‘Great historical events that were significantly affected by the weather: Part 9, the year leading to the revolution of 1789 in France (II)’, Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc. 71, 33–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Park, W. K., Kim, Y. J., Lee, J. H. and Seo, J. W.: 2001a, ‘Development of tree-ring chronologies of Pinus densiflora from Mt. Sorak and Dating the years of construction of the Kyunghoe-ru Pavilion in Seoul’, J. Korean Physical Soc. 39, 790–795.Google Scholar
  45. Park, W. K., Seo, J. W., Liu, Y., Kim, Y. J. and Han, S. W.: 2001b, ‘Reconstruction of April–August precipitation in Mt. Sorak region from tree rings’, Korea J. Quat. Res. 15, 47–52.Google Scholar
  46. Pederson, N., Jacoby, G. C., D'Arrigo, R. D., Cook, E. R., Buckley, B. M., Dugarjav, C. and Mijiddorj, R.: 2001, ‘Hydrometeorological reconstructions for northeastern Mongolia derived from tree rings: 1651–1995’, J. Clim. 14, 872–881.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Qin, N. S., Jin, L. Y., Shi, X. H., Wang, Q. C., Li, L., Chen, F. and Li, L. M.: 2004, ‘A 518-year runoff reconstruction of Tongtian river basin using tree-ring width chronologies in the source region of Yangtze river’, Acta Geog. Sin. 59, 550–556. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  48. Qin, N. S., Shao, X. M., Jin, L. Y., Wang, Q. C., Zhu, X. D., Wang, Z. Y. and Li, J. B.: 2003, ‘Climate change over southern Qinghai Plateau in the past 500 years recorded in Sabina tibetica tree rings’, Chin. Sci. Bull. 48, 2483–2487.Google Scholar
  49. Qian, W. H. and Zhu, Y. F.: 2001, ‘Climate change in China from 1880 to 1998 and Its impact on the environmental condition’, Clim. Change 50, 419–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Qian, W. H., Hu, Q., Zhu, Y. F. and Lee, D. -K.: 2003, ‘Centennial-scale dry-wet variations in east Asia’, Clim. Dynamics 21, 77–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Schweingruber, F. H.: 1996, Tree Rings and Environment: Dendroecology, Paul Haupt, Berne, p. 609.Google Scholar
  52. Shao, X. M. and Wu, X. D.: 1994, ‘Radial growth of Huashan Pine and its response to climate’, J. Chin. Geog. 4, 88–102.Google Scholar
  53. Shao, X. M. and Wu, X. D.: 1996, ‘Dendroclimatological reconstruction of 500-year precipitation in late spring and early summer in the Huashan Mountain’, in Fu, C. B. and Yan, Z. W. (eds.), Global Change and the Future Life-supporting Environment of China, China Meterological Press, Beijing, pp. 17–26. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  54. Shao, X. M., Fang, X. Q., Liu, H. B. and Huang, L.: 2003, ‘Dating the 1000-year old qilian Juniper along the eastern margin of the Qaidam Basin’, Acta Geog. Sin. 58, 90–100. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  55. Shao, X. M., Huang, L., Liu, H. B., Liang, E. Y., Fang, X. Q. and Wang, L. L.: 2005, ‘Reconstruction of precipitation variation from tree rings in recent 1000 years in Delingha, Qinghai’, Sci. China (D) 48, 939–949.Google Scholar
  56. Shi, F. C., Wang, G. A., Gao, Z. D., Mu, P. and Ma, G. A.: 1991, ‘Recurrence probability of 11-year continuous low water period (1922 – 1932 A.D.) in the yellow river’, Adv. Water Sci. 2, 258–263. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  57. Shi, Y. F.: 2003, An Assessment on the Issues of Climate from Warm-Dry to Warm-Wet in Northwest China, China Meteorological Press, Beijing, pp. 1–124. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  58. Snow, E.: 1937, Red Star over China, Victor Gollancz Ltd, London, p. 464.Google Scholar
  59. Snow, L. W.: 1981, Edgar Snow's China: A Personal Account of the Chinese Revolution, Random House, New York, p. 284.Google Scholar
  60. Stahle, D. W., Cleaveland, M. K., Blanton, D. B., Therrell, M. D. and Gay, D. A.: 1998, ‘The lost colony and jamestown droughts’, Science 280, 564–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Stahle, D. W., Cook, E. R., Cleaveland, M. K., Therrell, M. D., Meko, D. M., Grissino-Mayer, H. D., Watson, E., and Luckman, B. H.: 2000, ‘Tree-ring data document 16th century megadrought over north America’, Eco 81, 121–125.Google Scholar
  62. Su, R. Y.: 1988, Population in China, Gansu volume, China Economy Press, Beijing, p. 345.Google Scholar
  63. Tang, K. W., Wang, H. and Liu, C.: 2003, ‘Preliminary study of Hongjiannao lake's variation and ecological water demand’, J. Nat. Resour. 18, 304–309. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  64. The Editing Committee for ‘The Flood/Drought Hazards in Gansu Province'’: 1996, The Flood/Drought Hazards in Gansu Province, Yellow River Conservancy Press, Zhengzhou, pp. 1–657. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  65. Villalba, R. and Veblen, T. T.: 1997, ‘Spatial and temporal variation in Austrocedrus growth along the forest-steppe Ecotone in northern Patagonia’, Can. J. For. Res. 27, 580–597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Wang, S. M., Yu, Y. S., Wu, R. J. and Feng, M.: 1990, The Daihai Lake-Environment Evolution and Climate Change, University of Science & Technology of China Press, Hefei, pp. 105–191. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  67. Wang, S. W., Zhu, J. H. and Cai, J. N.: 2004 a, ‘Interdecadal variability of temperature and precipitation in China since 1880’, Adv. Atmos. Sci. 21, 307–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wang, Y. J., Chen, F. H. and Gou, X. H.: 2004 b, ‘March to June runoff of Heihe river since 1770 reconstructed from tree-ring data’, J. Glaciol. Geocryol. 26, 202–206. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  69. Weiss, H. and Bradley, R. S.: 2001, ‘Archaeology-what drives societal collapse?’, Science 291, 609–610.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Wilhite, D. A.: 2000, Drought: A Global Assessment, Natural Hazards and Disasters Series, Routledge, London, p. 700.Google Scholar
  71. Woodhouse, C. A. and Overpeck, J. T.: 1998, ‘2000 years of drought variability in the central united states’, Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc. 79, 2693–2714.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Worster, D.: 1982, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930's', Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  73. Xu, G. C.: 1997, Climate Change in Arid and Semiarid Regions of China, China Meteorological Press, Beijing, p. 101. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  74. Xu, J. H.: 1998, ‘Sun, climate, famine and national movement’, Sci. China (D) 28, 366–384. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  75. Yuan, Y. J., Li, J. F. and Zhang, J. B.: 2001, ‘348-year precipitation reconstruction from tree rings for the north slope of the middle Tianshan mountains’, Acta Meteorol. Sin. 15, 95–104.Google Scholar
  76. Yuan, Y. J., Ye, W. and Dong, G. R.: 2000, ‘Reconstruction and discussion of 314a precipitation in Yili prefecture, western Tianshan mountains’, J. Glaciol. Geocryol. 22, 121–127. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  77. Zhang, J.: 1994, The Dendroclimate's Reconstruction and Dendroclimate's Regional Differentiation Research in Eastern and Western Agriculture-Animal Husbandry Zone in Inner Mongolia, M.Sc. thesis, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, p. 36. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  78. Zhang, J. C. and Lin, Z. G.: 1992, Climate of China,Wiley, New York, p. 376.Google Scholar
  79. Zhang, Q. B., Chen, G. D., Yao, T. D., Kang, X. C. and Huang, J. G.: 2003, ‘A 2,326-year tree-ring record of climate variability on the northeastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau’, Geophys. Res. Let. 30, 1739–1742.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Zhang, Y. B., Zheng, H. M., Long, R. Z. and Yang, B. C.: 1982, ‘Seasonal cambial activity and formation of Phloem and Xylem in eight forest tree species grown in north China’, Sci. Silv. Sin. 18, 366–379. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  81. Zhang, Z. H. and Wu, X. D.: 1997, ‘Climatic reconstruction in the Qilian mountains during the past 700 years using tree-ring data’, Chin. Sci. Bull. 42, 849–851. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  82. Zhang, Z. H., Wu, X. D. and Li, J.: 1996, ‘Utilizing tree ring chronologies to reconstruct 300-year drought days in eastern Tianshan mountains’, Quat. J. Appl. Meteorol. 7, 53–60. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  83. Zheng, J. Y., Hao, Z. X. and Ge, Q. S.: 2005, ‘Variation of precipitation for the last 300 years over the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow river’, Sci. China (D) 35, 765–774. (in Chinese)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eryuan Liang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xiaohong Liu
    • 1
  • Yujiang Yuan
    • 3
  • Ningsheng Qin
    • 4
  • Xiuqi Fang
    • 5
  • Lei Huang
    • 1
  • Haifeng Zhu
    • 5
  • Lily Wang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xuemei Shao
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingP. R. China
  2. 2.Institute of Tibetan Plateau ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingP. R. China
  3. 3.Institute of Desert MeteorologyChina Meteorological AdministrationUrumqiP. R. China
  4. 4.Climate Date Center of QinghaiXiningP. R. China
  5. 5.Beijing Normal UniversityBeijingP. R. China

Personalised recommendations