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Comparing tree-ring based reconstructions of snowpack variability at different scales for the Navajo Nation

March 1, 2021

Snowpack in the western U.S. is on the decline, largely attributed to increasing temperatures in the region. This is a critical issue for many Native American communities who disproportionately rely on local snow-fed water supplies. In light of a combined ongoing drought and limited climate information for the Navajo Nation, Navajo water managers face decision-making challenges complicated by past and future climate uncertainty. Developed in partnership with the Navajo Nation Water Management Branch, this study documents two snowpack reconstruction options to address Navajo concerns about the amount and variability of snowpack in the Chuska Mountains. We used two separate snowpack datasets with tree rings collected in northern Arizona to develop and evaluate reconstructions of Chuska snowpack and their potential relevance and usefulness to Navajo water managers’ decision-making. We found that both reconstructions skillfully estimated snowpack, though there were differences that may have meaningful implications for water managers. Major snow droughts occurred roughly once per century over the last 300 years, with droughts in 1728–1744, 1818–1834, 1950–1977, and 1999–2006. Extremely dry individual years in each reconstruction punctuate multi-year drought periods in a way that has not been recognized from instrumental data alone and that can have a large influence on the overall intensity of a given drought. The reconstruction that is most representative of Chuska snowpack has less explanatory power than the regionally representative reconstruction, but the Chuska reconstruction effectively captures snowpack extremes and snow drought timing unique to the Chuska Mountains, and may hold greater relevance to Navajo water management.

Publication Year 2021
Title Comparing tree-ring based reconstructions of snowpack variability at different scales for the Navajo Nation
DOI 10.1016/j.cliser.2021.100213
Authors Rebecca Lynn Brice, Christopher H. Guiterman, Connie A. Woodhouse, Carlee McClellan, Paul Sheppard
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Climate Services
Index ID 70218685
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center