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Orbital forcing of tree-ring data



Solar insolation changes, resulting from long-term oscillations of orbital configurations1, are an important driver of Holocene climate2,3. The forcing is substantial over the past 2,000 years, up to four times as large as the 1.6 W m−2 net anthropogenic forcing since 1750 (ref. 4), but the trend varies considerably over time, space and with season5. Using numerous high-latitude proxy records, slow orbital changes have recently been shown6 to gradually force boreal summer temperature cooling over the common era. Here, we present new evidence based on maximum latewood density data from northern Scandinavia, indicating that this cooling trend was stronger (−0.31 °C per 1,000 years, ±0.03 °C) than previously reported, and demonstrate that this signature is missing in published tree-ring proxy records. The long-term trend now revealed in maximum latewood density data is in line with coupled general circulation models7,8 indicating albedo-driven feedback mechanisms and substantial summer cooling over the past two millennia in northern boreal and Arctic latitudes. These findings, together with the missing orbital signature in published dendrochronological records, suggest that large-scale near-surface air-temperature reconstructions9,10,11,12,13 relying on tree-ring data may underestimate pre-instrumental temperatures including warmth during Medieval and Roman times.

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Figure 1: High-precision density data derived from northern Scandinavian P. sylvestris trees.
Figure 2: N-scan JJA temperature reconstruction and fit with regional instrumental data.
Figure 3: Comparison of N-scan with decadally resolved Arctic proxy records.


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We thank D. S. Kaufman for comments and H. Grudd for help with fieldwork. Supported by the Mainz Geocycles Research Centre and Palaeoweather Group, the European Union projects Carbo-Extreme (226701), CIRCE (36961) and ACQWA (212250), the Swiss National Science Foundation project INTEGRAL (121859), the German Science Foundation project PRIME (LU1608/1-1) and the Eva Mayr-Stihl Foundation.

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J.E., D.C.F., M.T., E.Z., R.J.S.W. and U.B. designed the study. Field sampling and measurements were done by J.E., D.C.F., M.T., R.J.S., U.B., D.N. and A.V. J.E., D.C.F., E.Z. and U.B. carried out the analysis with input from R.J.S., J.L., S.H., N.F. and S.W. All authors contributed to discussion, interpretation and writing the paper.

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Correspondence to Jan Esper.

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Esper, J., Frank, D., Timonen, M. et al. Orbital forcing of tree-ring data. Nature Clim Change 2, 862–866 (2012).

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