Climate Dynamics

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 425–440 | Cite as

Cycles and shifts: 1,300 years of multi-decadal temperature variability in the Gulf of Alaska

  • Rob Wilson
  • Greg Wiles
  • Rosanne D’Arrigo
  • Chris Zweck


The Gulf of Alaska (GOA) is highly sensitive to shifts in North Pacific climate variability. Here we present an extended tree-ring record of January–September GOA coastal surface air temperatures using tree-ring width data from coniferous trees growing in the mountain ranges along the GOA. The reconstruction (1514–1999), based on living trees, explains 44% of the temperature variance, although, as the number of chronologies decreases back in time, this value decreases to, and remains around ∼30% before 1840. Verification of the calibrated models is, however, robust. Utilizing sub-fossil wood, we extend the GOA reconstruction back to the early eighth century. The GOA reconstruction correlates significantly (95% CL) with both the Pacific Decadal Oscillation Index (0.53) and North Pacific Index (−0.42) and therefore likely yields important information on past climate variability in the North Pacific region. Intervention analysis on the GOA reconstruction identifies the known twentieth century climate shifts around the 1940s and 1970s, although the mid-1920s shift is only weakly expressed. In the context of the full 1,300 years record, the well studied 1976 shift is not unique. Multi-taper method spectral analysis shows that the spectral properties of the living and sub-fossil data are similar, with both records showing significant (95% CL) spectral peaks at ∼9–11, 13–14 and 18–19 years. Singular spectrum analysis identifies (in order of importance) significant oscillatory modes at 18.7, 50.4, 38.0, 91.8, 24.4, 15.3 and 14.1 years. The amplitude of these modes varies through time. It has been suggested (Minobe in Geophys Res Lett 26:855–858, 1999) that the regime shifts during the twentieth century can be explained by the interaction between pentadecadal (50.4 years) and bidecadal (18.7 years) oscillatory modes. Removal of these two modes of variance from our GOA time series does indeed remove the twentieth century shifts, but many are still identified prior to the twentieth century. Our analysis suggests that climate variability of the GOA is very complex, and that much more work is required to understand the underlying oscillatory behavior that is observed in instrumental and proxy records from the North Pacific region.


Pacific Decadal Oscillation Regime Shift Singular Spectrum Analysis Express Population Signal North Pacific Index 



Thank you to Ed Cook and Emma Watson for invaluable advice and comments. Figure 4 was generated using the KNMI Climate Explorer ( This project was funded by the National Science Foundation (Grants ATM02–02898 and OCE 04–02474). The initial manuscript was much improved from reviews from Phil Jones, Ulf Büntgen and two anonymous reviewers. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Contribution No. 6973.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rob Wilson
    • 1
    • 3
  • Greg Wiles
    • 2
  • Rosanne D’Arrigo
    • 3
  • Chris Zweck
    • 4
  1. 1.School of GeoSciences, Grant InstituteEdinburgh UniversityEdinburghScotland, UK
  2. 2.The College of WoosterWoosterUSA
  3. 3.Tree-Ring Laboratory, Lamont-Doherty Earth ObservatoryColumbia UniversityPalisadesUSA
  4. 4.Department of Hydrology and Water ResourcesUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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