Twentieth-century warming could lead to increases in the moisture-holding capacity of the atmosphere, altering the hydrological cycle and the characteristics of precipitation1. Such changes in the global rate and distribution of precipitation may have a greater direct effect on human well-being and ecosystem dynamics than changes in temperature itself2,3. Despite the co-variability of both of these climate variables3, attention in long-term climate reconstruction has mainly concentrated on temperature changes4,5,6,7,8. Here we present an annually resolved oxygen isotope record from tree-rings, providing a millennial-scale reconstruction of precipitation variability in the high mountains of northern Pakistan. The climatic signal originates mainly from winter precipitation, and is robust over ecologically different sites. Centennial-scale variations reveal dry conditions at the beginning of the past millennium and through the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, with precipitation increasing during the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries to yield the wettest conditions of the past 1,000 years. Comparison with other long-term precipitation reconstructions indicates a large-scale intensification of the hydrological cycle coincident with the onset of industrialization and global warming, and the unprecedented amplitude argues for a human role.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Trenberth, K. E., Dai, A., Rasmussen, R. M. & Parsons, D. B. The changing character of precipitation. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc 84, 1205–1217 (2003)
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis (IPCC, Geneva, 2001)
Trenberth, K. E. & Shea, D. J. Relationships between precipitation and surface temperature. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, 10.1029/2005GL022760 (2005)
Mann, M. E., Bradley, R. S. & Hughes, M. K. Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the past millennium: Inferences, uncertainties, and limitations. Geophys. Res. Lett. 26, 759–762 (1999)
Esper, J., Cook, E. R. & Schweingruber, F. H. Low-frequency signals in long chronologies for reconstructing past temperature variability. Science 295, 2250–2253 (2002)
Briffa, K. R. & Osborn, T. J. Blowing hot and cold. Science 295, 2227–2228 (2002)
Esper, J., Frank, D. C. & Wilson, R. J. S. Climate reconstructions: Low-frequency ambition and high-frequency ratification. Eos 85, 113–119 (2004)
Moberg, A., Sonechkin, D. M., Holmgren, K., Datsenko, N. M. & Karlen, W. Highly variable Northern Hemisphere temperatures reconstructed from low- and high-resolution proxy data. Nature 433, 613–617 (2005)
Boehner, J. General climatic controls and topoclimatic variations in Central and High Asia. Boreas (in the press)
Bao, Y., Braeuning, A., Johnson, K. R. & Yafeng, S. General characteristics of tempreature variation in China during the last two millennia. Geophys. Res. Lett. 29, 10.1029/2001GL014485 (2002)
Esper, J., Frank, D. C., Wilson, R. J. S., Büntgen, U. & Treydte, K. Uniform growth behavior among central Asian low and high elevation juniper tree sites. Mount. Res. Dev. (in the press)
Anderson, D. M., Overpeck, J. T. & Gupta, A. K. Increase in the Asian southwest monsoon during the past four centuries. Science 297, 596–599 (2002)
Hughes, M. K. in Climate Since AD 1500 (eds Bradley, R. S. & Jones, P. D.) 415–431 (Routledge, London, 1995)
Singh, J. & Yadav, R. R. Spring precipitation variations over the western Himalaya, India, since ad 1731 as deduced from tree-rings. J. Geophys. Res. 110, 10.1029/2004JD004855 (2005)
Pederson, N., Jacoby, G. C., D'Arrigo, R. D., Cook, E. R. & Buckley, B. Hydrometeorological reconstructions for Northeastern Mongolia derived from tree-rings: 1651–1995. J. Clim. 14, 872–881 (2001)
Bräuning, A. & Mantwill, B. Summer temperature and summer monsoon history on the Tibetan Plateau during the last 400 years recorded by tree-rings. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, 10.1029/2004GL020793 (2005)
Sheppard, P. R. et al. Annual precipitation since 515 bc reconstructed from living and fossil juniper growth of northeastern Qinghai Province, China. Clim. Dyn. 23, 869–881 (2004)
Roden, J. S., Lin, G. & Ehleringer, J. R. A mechanistic model for interpretation of hydrogen and oxygen isotope ratios in tree-ring cellulose. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 64, 21–35 (2000)
Rozanski, K., Araguas-Araguas, L. & Gonfiantini, R. Relation between long-term trends of oxygen-18 isotope composition of precipitation and climate. Science 258, 981–985 (1992)
Tang, K. & Feng, X. The effect of soil hydrology on the oxygen and hydrogen isotopic compositions of plants' source water. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 185, 355–367 (2001)
Cook, E. R., Briffa, K. R. & Jones, P. D. Spatial regression methods in dendroclimatology: a review and comparison of two techniques. Int. J. Climatol. 14, 379 (1994)
New, M., Todd, M., Hulme, M. & Jones, P. Precipitation measurements and trends in the twentieth century. Int. J. Climatol. 21, 1889–1922 (2001)
Cook, E. R., Woodhouse, C., Eakin, C. M., Meko, D. M. & Stahle, D. W. Long-term aridity changes in the western United States. Science 306, 1015–1018 (2004)
Wilson, R. J. S., Luckman, B. H. & Esper, J. A 500-year dendroclimatic reconstruction of spring/summer precipitation from the lower Bavarian forest region, Germany. Int. J. Climatol. 25, 611–630 (2005)
Tett, S. F. B. et al. The impact of natural and anthropogenic forcings on climate and hydrology since 1550. Clim. Dyn. (submitted)
Allen, M. R. & Ingram, W. J. Constraints on future changes in climate and the hydrological cycle. Nature 419, 224–232 (2002)
Emori, S. & Brown, S. J. Dynamic and thermodynamic changes in mean and extreme precipitation under changed climate. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, 10.1029/2005GL023272 (2005)
Leavitt, S. W. & Long, A. Sampling strategy for stable isotope analysis of tree-rings in pine. Nature 311, 145–147 (1984)
Wigley, T. M. L., Briffa, K. R. & Jones, P. D. On the average of correlated time series, with applications in dendroclimatology and hydrometeorology. J. Clim. Appl. Meteorol. 23, 201–213 (1984)
Briffa, K. R. et al. Tree-ring width and density data around the Northern Hemisphere: Part 1, local and regional climate signals. Holocene 12, 737–757 (2002)
We are grateful to K. Briffa, E. Cook, E. Hendy, R. Wilson, M. Gagen, J. Waterhouse, M. Gumpert and U. Büntgen for comments and suggestions. We thank S. Andres, B. Kammer, W. Laumer, G. Reiss, M. Schrimpf and C. Welscher for laboratory assistance, and C. Welscher, M. Gumpert and A. Shafgat for logistical support in the field. This research was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research, the German Science Foundation Schl 3-1, the European Union (ALPIMP and ISONET) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (NCCR-Climate).
Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Treydte, K., Schleser, G., Helle, G. et al. The twentieth century was the wettest period in northern Pakistan over the past millennium. Nature 440, 1179–1182 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04743
Nature Reviews Earth & Environment (2021)
Unexpected climate variability inferred from a 380-year tree-ring earlywood oxygen isotope record in the Karakoram, Northern Pakistan
Climate Dynamics (2021)
Tree-ring-based temperature reconstruction from the western Himalayan region in northern Pakistan since 1705 C.E.
Arabian Journal of Geosciences (2021)
Nature Geoscience (2020)
Climatic Change (2020)