Remote tree-ring proxies: methods, opportunities, and limitations for reconstructing South Pacific climate

Access & Terms of Use
embargoed access
Embargoed until 2024-01-30
Copyright: Higgins, Philippa
Increasing population and resource demands, a changing hydroclimate, and increasing risks of extreme events means that sustainable water management is more important now than ever before. Water planners are increasingly recognising that short instrumental records are insufficient to understand fully natural trends and variability in climate. High resolution paleoclimate proxies, like tree rings, can provide long time series of observations prior to the instrumental period, to better understand instrumental and pre-instrumental variability, the occurrence, trends, and drivers of extreme events, and provide insights into possible future hydroclimatic scenarios. However, tree-ring proxies are not evenly distributed in the landscape, and the South Pacific has very few high-resolution paleoclimate proxies to develop detailed reconstructions of climate variability. This thesis explores whether the relationships between tree-ring proxies in regions with strong teleconnections to the Pacific (i.e., ‘remote’ tree rings) can be exploited to reconstruct hydroclimatic indices across eastern Australia and the South Pacific Islands. Methods for hydroclimatic reconstruction are investigated, considering the unique challenges of the region: strong inter-annual and inter-decadal variability, very short data records, data gaps, and potential non-stationarities in climate teleconnections. Existing methods for tree-ring reconstructions have been successfully applied in the South Pacific (Chapter 2); however, overcoming the challenges posed by very short and non-continuous records required adaptations to existing methods (Chapter 3) and the development of new methods (Chapter 5). In the final two chapters, the thesis focuses on how catchment-scale tree-ring reconstructions can be most useful to water managers. In these chapters, methods of identifying, explaining, and representing extreme event frequency, return periods, and trends are explored, as are methods for using paleoclimate data along with climate model projections to help contextualise future risks of climate change. Overall, this thesis highlights the enormous potential of remote tree-rings for improving our understanding of past climate in the South Pacific. The reconstructions consistently demonstrate that the instrumental period underestimates the full range of natural climate variability and shows how century-long records provided by tree rings can help us better understand past climate drivers, contextualise the instrumental period, and refine estimates of future climate risks. This thesis builds upon a growing body of work that demonstrates the considerable value of tree-ring based reconstructions for current and future water resource decision making, most notably in remote regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change but where there are limited instrumental records. Maximising the potential of tree-ring data for water management will require ongoing collaboration between dendrochronologists and water managers.
Persistent link to this record
Link to Publisher Version
Link to Open Access Version
Additional Link
Conference Proceedings Editor(s)
Other Contributor(s)
Corporate/Industry Contributor(s)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Degree Type
PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty