Chinese 2,485 year tree ring study shows natural cycles control climate, temps may cool til 2068

A blockbuster Chinese study of Tibetan tree rings by Liu et al 2011 shows, with detail, that the modern era is a dog-standard normal climate when compared to the last 2,500 years. The temperature, the rate of change — it’s all been seen before. Nothing about the current period is “abnormal”, indeed the current warming period in Tibet can be produced through calculation of cycles. Liu et al do a Fourier analysis on the underlying cycles and do brave predictions as well.

In Tibet, it was about the same temperature on at least four occasions — back in late Roman times (those chariots!), then again in the dark ages (blame the collapse of industry), then in the middle ages (the Vikings?), then in modern times (blame the rise of industry).

Clearly, these climate cycles have nothing to with human civilization. Their team finds natural cycles of many different lengths are at work: 2-3 years, 100 years, 199 years, 800 years, and 1,324 years. The cold periods are associated with sunspot cycles. What we are not used to seeing are brave scientists willing to publish exact predictions of future temperatures for 100 years that include rises and falls. Apparently, it will cool til 2068, then warm again, though not to the same warmth as 2006 levels.

On “tree-rings”

Now some will argue that skeptics scoff at tree rings, and we do — sometimes — especially ones based on the wrong kind of tree (like the bristlecone) or ones based on small samples (like Yamal), ones with aberrant statistical tricks that produce the same curve regardless of the data (Mann’s hockey-stick), and especially ones that truncate data because it doesn’t agree with thermometers placed near air-conditioner outlets and in carparks (Mann again). Only time will tell if this analysis has nailed it, but, yes, it is worthy of our attention.

Some will also, rightly, point out this is just Tibet, not a global average. True. But the results agree reasonably well with hundreds of other studies from all around the world (from Medieval times, Roman times, the Greenland cores). Why can’t we do solid tree-ring analysis like this from many locations?

Amplitudes, rates, periodicities and causes of temperature variations in the past 2,485 years and future trends over the central-eastern Tibetan Plateau []


Figure 5 Prediction of temperature trends on the central-eastern Tibetan Plateau for the next 120 years. Blue line, initial series; orange line, calibration series, 464 BC–834 AD; purple line, verification series, 835–1980 AD; red line, forecasting series, 1980–2134 AD.

There are beautiful graphs. Have a look at the power spectrum analysis and the cycles below…


Amplitudes, rates, periodicities and causes of temperature variations in the past 2,485 years and future trends over the central-eastern Tibetan Plateau

Amplitudes, rates, periodicities, causes and future trends of temperature variations based on tree rings for the past 2485 years on the central-eastern Tibetan Plateau were analyzed. The results showed that extreme climatic events on the Plateau, such as the Medieval Warm Period,  Little Ice Age and 20th Century Warming appeared synchronously with those in other places worldwide. The largest amplitude and rate of temperature change occurred during the Eastern Jin Event (343–425 AD), and not in the late 20th century. There were significant cycles of 1324 a, 800 a, 199 a, 110 a and 2–3 a in the 2485-year temperature series. The 1324 a, 800 a, 199 a and 110 a cycles are associated with solar activity, which greatly affects the Earth surface temperature. The long-term trends (>1000 a) of temperature were controlled by the millennium-scale cycle, and amplitudes were dominated by multi-century cycles. Moreover, cold intervals corresponded to sunspot minimums. The prediction indicated that the temperature will decrease in the future until to 2068 AD and then increase again.


Figure 1 Tree-ring-based temperature reconstruction for the central-eastern Tibetan Plateau during the past 2485 years (gray line), the 40-year moving average (thick black line) and the 40-year running standard deviation (thin black line); the horizontal line is the mean temperature for the 2485 years.

Figure 2 Power spectrum analysis of the 2485-year temperature series.

Figure 3 Millennium-scale cycle in the temperature variation during the last 2485 years.

Figure 4 Decomposition of the main cycles of the 2485-year temperature series on the Tibetan Plateau and periodic function simulation. Top: Gray line,original series; red line, 1324 a cycle; green line, 199 a cycle; blue line, 110 a cycle. Bottom: Three sine functions for different timescales. 1324 a, red dashed line (y = 0.848 sin(0.005 t + 0.23)); 199 a, green line (y = 1.40 sin(0.032 t – 0.369)); 110 a, blue line (y = 1.875 sin(0.057 t + 2.846)); time t is the year from 484 BC to 2000 AD. (Click to enlarge)


Climate events worldwide, such as the MWP and LIA, were seen in a 2,485-year temperature series. The largest Figure 6 Temperature comparison between the forecast and observation data taken from seven stations on the central-eastern Tibetan Plateau (seven stations: Delingha, Dulan, Golmud, Lhasa, Nagqu, Dachaidan and Bange). amplitude and rate of temperature both occurred during the EJE, but not in the late 20th century.

The millennium-scale cycle of solar activity determined the long-term temperature variation trends, while century-scale cycles controlled the amplitudes of temperature.

Sunspot minimum events were associated with cold periods.

The prediction results obtained using caterpillar-SSA showed that the temperature would increase until 2006 AD on the central-eastern Plateau, and then decrease until 2068 AD, and then increase again.

The regularity of 600-year temperature increases and 600-year decreases (Figure 3) suggest that the temperature will continue to increase for another 200 years, since it has only been about 400 years since the LIA. However, a decrease in temperature for a short period controlled by century- scale cycles cannot be excluded.

Obviously, solar activity has greatly affected temperature on the central-eastern Plateau.



Liu Y, Cai Q F, Song H M, et al. Amplitudes, rates, periodicities and causes of temperature variations in the past 2485 years and future trends over the central-eastern Tibetan Plateau. Chinese Sci Bull, 2011, 56: 2986-2994, doi: 10.1007/s11434-011-4713-7 Climate Change over the Past Millennium in China. --]