• Late Quaternary vegetation and lake level changes in central Alaska

      Bigelow, Nancy Horner; Edwards, Mary E.; Powers, W. Roger (1997)
      The threat of significant high-latitude global warming over the next 50 years requires that we assess the response of vegetation to climate change. One approach is to see how plants have reacted to past climate change. In this study high-resolution reconstructions of past vegetation and climate, based on pollen and lake level changes, provide useful insights into vegetation and climate change in central Alaska since 14,000 years ago. Climate changed substantially at about 12,000 years ago, between 11,000 and 10,000 years ago, and about 8,000 years ago. At 12,000 years ago, a significant transition is reflected by the appearance of shrub birch into a region that had been dominated by grass, sage, and sedge. The vegetation became denser; shrubs occupied the moister sites, and herbaceous taxa grew on well-drained, exposed ridges and slopes. Lake levels increased at this time, suggesting the climate became warmer and wetter than it had been previously. Between 11,000 and 10,000 years ago, the vegetation at some sites reverted to a grass and sage-rich flora, suggesting a return to drier and/or cooler conditions. This period of climate change has not been recognized before from pollen records in central Alaska. The timing of this vegetation shift suggests it is related to the Younger Dryas event, a world-wide episode of climatic deterioration. About 8,500 to 8,000 years ago, spruce appeared in the region, coincident with a significant lake level rise, suggesting that the spruce expansion was aided by wetter conditions, as well as warmer temperatures. In central Alaska, periods of past vegetation change are marked by shifts in moisture. Today, central Alaska receives very little rain, and in some areas the vegetation is moisture-limited, suggesting that during the past, changes in moisture could have had a strong effect on the vegetation. In terms of future global change, this study suggests that any shifts in moisture associated with the predicted temperature changes, especially towards drier conditions, will strongly affect the current vegetation distribution.
    • Millennial To Annual Scale Paleoclimatic Change In Central Alaska During The Late Quaternary Interpreted From Lake Sediments And Tree Rings

      Barber, Valerie Ann; Finney, Bruce; Juday, Glenn (2002)
      The theme of this dissertation is the importance of effective moisture (precipitation minus evaporation) in subarctic ecosystems. Interior Alaska has a relatively dry climate with annual precipitation ranging from 25--45 cm. Records from interior Alaska lake sediment cores show low lake levels following the Last Glacial Maximum, with significant increases at 12,000 and 9,000 14C years BP. Using lake-level reconstructions and models based on modern hydrologic and meteorologic data, we infer precipitation of 35--75% less than modern at 12,000 yr. BP, 25--45% less than modern at 9,000 yr. BP, and 10--20% less than modern at 6,000 yr. BP. Trees were scarce on the interior Alaskan landscape during the late Pleistocene with birch species appearing about 12,000 BP and spruce species approximately 3500 years later. The correspondence between lake-level and vegetation changes suggests that moisture may have been one of the limiting factors in the establishment of these tree species. Alaska climate records show a climatic regime shift in the mid-1970s. Less effective moisture is available over the past 30 years because summer temperatures in interior Alaska have been increasing without a concurrent increase in precipitation. Radial growth of white spruce at 20 low elevation stands in interior Alaska declined corresponding with this climatic change. The observation that moisture limits spruce growth in Alaska today is consistent with our inference of moisture limitation in the early Holocene. A 200-year reconstruction was developed based on two tree ring proxies, 13C discrimination and maximum latewood density, which together show excellent agreement with the recorded Fairbanks average May through August temperatures. The first half of the 20th century is characterized by the coolest summers of the 200 year period of reconstruction, while the latter part of the 20th century, particularly from 1974 onward, is characterized by some of the warmest summers of the 200 year period. Mid-19 th summer temperatures reconstruct to be as warm as the latter part of the 20th century, which is inconsistent with reconstructions of other regions. It seems likely, based on current information, that these inconsistencies may be real and may reflect regional synoptic conditions unique to interior Alaska. Distinctive decadal scale regimes were identified throughout the record.