Reconstructed Streamflows for the Headwaters of the Wind River, Wyoming, United States

Journal of the American Water Resources Association

Tree rings offer a means to extend observational records of streamflow by hundreds of years, but dendrohydrological techniques are not regularly applied to small tributary and headwaters gages. Here we explore the potential for extending three such gage records on small streams in the Wind River drainage of central Wyoming, United States. Using core samples taken from Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), pin˜ on pine (Pinus edulis), and limber pine (Pinus flexilis) at 38 sites, we were able to reconstruct streamflows for the headwaters of the Wind River back to 1672 AD or earlier. The streamflow reconstructions for Bull Lake Creek above Bull Lake; the Little Popo Agie River near Lander, Wyoming; and Wind River near Dubois, Wyoming explained between 40% and 64% of the observed variance, and these extended records performed well in a variety of statistical verification tests. The full reconstructions show pronounced inter-annual variability in streamflow, and these proxy records also point to the prevalence of severe, sustained droughts in this region.These reconstructions indicate that the 20th Century was relatively wet compared to previous centuries, and actual gage records may capture only a limited subset of potential natural variability in this area. Further analyses reveal how tree-ring based reconstructions for small tributary and headwaters gages can be strongly influenced by the length and quality of calibration records, but this work also demonstrates how the use of a spatially extensive network of tree-ring sites can improve the quality of these types of reconstructions.


Thomas A. Watson, F. Anthony Barnett, Stephen T. Gray, and Glenn A. Tootle