Oxygen isotopes in tree rings are a good proxy for Amazon precipitation and El Niño-Southern Oscillation variability
Brienen, R.J.W., G. Hellec, T.L. Ponsd, J.-L. Guyote, and M. Gloor, 2012: “Oxygen isotopes in tree rings are a good proxy for Amazon precipitation and El Niño-Southern Oscillation variability.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1205977109.
We present a unique proxy for the reconstruction of variation in precipitation over the Amazon: oxygen isotope ratios in annual rings in tropical cedar (Cedrela odorata). A century-long record from northern Bolivia shows that tree rings preserve the signal of oxygen isotopes in precipitation during the wet season, with weaker influences of temperature and vapor pressure. Tree ring δ18O correlates strongly with δ18O in precipitation from distant stations in the center and west of the basin, and with Andean ice core δ18O showing that the signal is coherent over large areas. The signal correlates most strongly with basin-wide precipitation and Amazon river discharge. We attribute the strength of this (negative) correlation mainly to the cumulative rainout processes of oxygen isotopes (Rayleigh distillation) in air parcels during westward transport across the basin. We further find a clear signature of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the record, with strong ENSO influences over recent decades, but weaker influence from 1925 to 1975 indicating decadal scale variation in the controls on the hydrological cycle. The record exhibits a significant increase in δ18O over the 20th century consistent with increases in Andean δ18O ice core and lake records, which we tentatively attribute to increased water vapor transport into the basin. Taking these data together, our record reveals a fresh path to diagnose and improve our understanding of variation and trends of the hydrological cycle of the world’s largest river catchment.