Holocene Treeline Fluctuations in the Northern San Juan Mountains, Colorado, U.S.A., as Indicated by Radiocarbon-Dated Conifer Wood

Arctic and Alpine Research
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Abstract

An early to mid-Holocene warm period with greater than present-day monsoonal circulation is indicated by evidence in the northern San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Fifty radiocarbon ages of coniferous wood fragments, and several other radiocarbon ages of willow fragments, woody peat, and organic sediment associated with conifer remains, recovered from six sites at or above present-day treeline indicate that during the first half of the Holocene treeline was higher than present.

Radiocarbon ages of coniferous wood fragments recovered from the remains of Lake Emma, a former glacial tarn above present-day treeline, indicate that between 9600 and 5400 BP treeline in the northern San Juan Mountains was at least 80 m higher than present. Furthermore, a radiocarbon age of a large spruce fragment with a complacent annual-ring record suggests that at about 8000 BP timberline may have been at least 140 m higher than present. These data suggest that during the early to mid-Holocene average July temperatures were at least 0.5 to 0.9°C higher than present. Radiocarbon ages and stratigraphy from bogs in the study area near present-day treeline suggest that between 5400 and 3500 BP treeline was near its present-day limits. After 3500 BP treeline was generally lower than present although short climatic ameliorations, with accompanying rises in treeline, may have occurred at about 3100 and 2400 BP.

Deuterium concentrations previously determined for the cellulose of 18 conifer fragments from the Lake Emma site indicate a 70‰ decrease in deuterium from 9600 BP to present. These data indicate that the early Holocene increase in July solar radiation may have resulted in the intensification of the Arizona monsoon at that time.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Holocene Treeline Fluctuations in the Northern San Juan Mountains, Colorado, U.S.A., as Indicated by Radiocarbon-Dated Conifer Wood
Series title Arctic and Alpine Research
DOI 10.2307/1551601
Volume 23
Issue 3
Year Published 1991
Language English
Publisher Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Contributing office(s) Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center
Description 14 p.
First page 223
Last page 246
Country United States
State Colorado
Other Geospatial Northern San Juan Mountains
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