The Coral Pink Sand Dunes (CPSD) is one of the largest active dune fields in the Grand Staircase of the Colorado Plateau. A disjunct stand of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) seemingly thrives within the dune field. The presence of a multiple-aged stand suggests the site has experienced varied climatic conditions since becoming established. Other geomorphic systems in the region (e.g., arroyos) indicate sensitivity to small climate fluctuations; perhaps the dunes are similarly sensitive, leading to the question—could the trees be used to reconstruct past climate, and could that reconstruction be used to model dune activity with climate variability. The climate-growth relationship was tested by correlating the tree-ring chronology with precipitation data from a climate reporting station in Kanab, UT (15 km to the east) yielding a correlation coefficient of r = 0.73. Calibration and verification of the model results in a reconstruction of precipitation dating back to the beginning of the tree-ring record in 1775. Spectra analysis of the reconstruction determined a 20-year mode of climate variability similar to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Comparison between the reconstruction and teleconnection indices showed that precipitation at CPSD responds to variability in the Pacific basin. The results of this study can be applied to other studies on dune activity variability with climate, and further, how dune activity corresponds to other geomorphic processes in the region.

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Faculty Mentor

Dr. David Wilkins