Tree rings are magical. Not only can you reconstruct temperatures from the past, but you can reconstruct droughts (rainfall).
Whenever I see the word “novel approach” I worry we are in for BS.
However, since the authors of this paper are saying things were worse in the past than present I like to pretend I believe them.
They also sort of say that more dendrohydrologists are needed. Surprise.
Recent streamflow droughts in south coastal British Columbia have had major socioeconomic and ecological impacts. Increasing drought severity under projected climate change poses serious water management challenges, particularly in the small coastal watersheds that serve as primary water sources for most communities in the region. A 332-year dendrohydrological record of regionalized mean summer streamflow for four watersheds is analyzed to place recent drought magnitudes in a long-term perspective.
We present a novel approach for optimizing tree-ring based reconstructions in small watersheds in temperate environments, combining winter snow depth and summer drought sensitive proxies as model predictors. The reconstruction model, estimated by regression of observed flows on Tsuga mertensiana ring-width variables and a tree-ring derived paleorecord of the Palmer Drought Severity Index, explains 64% of the regionalized streamflow variance.
The model is particularly accurate at estimating lowest flow events, and provides the strongest annually resolved paleohydrological record in British Columbia. The extended record suggests that since 1658 sixteen natural droughts have occurred that were more extreme than any within the instrumental period. Flow-duration curves show more severe worst-case scenario droughts and a higher probability of those droughts in the long-term reconstruction than in the hydrometric data.
Such curves also highlight the value of dendrohydrology for probabilistic drought assessment. Our results suggest current water management strategies based on worst-case scenarios from historical gauge data likely underestimate the potential magnitudes of natural droughts. If the low-flow magnitudes anticipated under climate change co-occur with lowest possible natural flows, streamflow drought severities in small watersheds in south coastal British Columbia could exceed any of those experienced in the past ∼350 years.