Varying boreal forest response to Arctic environmental change at the Firth River, Alaska

Andreu Hayles, Laia; D'Arrigo, Rosanne Dorothy; Anchukaitis, Kevin; Beck, Peter S. A.; Frank, David; Goetz, Scott

The response of boreal forests to anthropogenic climate change remains uncertain, with potentially significant impacts for the global carbon cycle, albedo, canopy evapotranspiration and feedbacks into further climate change. Here, we focus on tree-ring data from the Firth River site at treeline in northeastern Alaska, in a tundra–forest transition region where pronounced warming has already occurred. Both tree-ring width (TRW) and maximum latewood density (MXD) chronologies were developed to identify the nature of tree growth and density responses to climatic and environmental changes in white spruce (Picea glauca), a dominant Arctic treeline species. Good agreement was found between the interannual fluctuations in the TRW chronology and summer temperatures from 1901 to 1950, whereas no significant relationships were found from 1951 to 2001, supporting evidence of significant divergence between TRW and summer temperature in the second half of the 20th century. In contrast to this unstable climatic response in the TRW record, the high frequency July–August temperature signal in the MXD series seems reasonably stable through the 20th century. Wider and denser rings were more frequent during the 20th century, particularly after 1950, than in previous centuries. Finally, comparison between the tree-ring proxies and a satellite-derived vegetation index suggests that TRW and MXD correlate with vegetation productivity at the landscape level at different times of the growing season.

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Environmental Research Letters

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