Tree growth across the Nepal Himalaya during the last four centuries

U. K. Thapa, Scott St. George, D. K. Kharal, N. P. Gaire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations

Abstract

The climate of Nepal has changed rapidly over the recent decades, but most instrumental records of weather and hydrology only extend back to the 1980s. Tree rings can provide a longer perspective on recent environmental changes, and since the early 2000s, a new round of field initiatives by international researchers and Nepali scientists have more than doubled the size of the country’s tree-ring network. In this paper, we present a comprehensive analysis of the current tree-ring width network for Nepal, and use this network to estimate changes in forest growth nation-wide during the last four centuries. Ring-width chronologies in Nepal have been developed from 11 tree species, and half of the records span at least 290 years. The Nepal tree-ring width network provides a robust estimate of annual forest growth over roughly the last four centuries, but prior to this point, our mean ring-width composite fluctuates wildly due to low sample replication. Over the last four centuries, two major events are prominent in the all-Nepal composite: (i) a prolonged and widespread growth suppression during the early 1800s; and (ii) heightened growth during the most recent decade. The early 19th century decline in tree growth coincides with two major Indonesian eruptions, and suggests that short-term disturbances related to climate extremes can exert a lasting influence on the vigor of Nepal’s forests. Growth increases since AD 2000 are mainly apparent in high-elevation fir, which may be a consequence of the observed trend towards warmer temperatures, particularly during winter. This synthesis effort should be useful to establish baselines for tree-ring data in Nepal and provide a broader context to evaluate the sensitivity or behavior of this proxy in the central Himalayas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)478-495
Number of pages18
JournalProgress in Physical Geography
Volume41
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017

Keywords

  • Dendrochronology
  • Himalayas
  • Nepal
  • dendroclimatology
  • paleoclimate
  • tree rings

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