Climate Dynamics

, Volume 53, Issue 11, pp 6595–6607 | Cite as

500-year tree-ring reconstruction of Salween River streamflow related to the history of water supply in Southeast Asia

  • Feng ChenEmail author
  • Huaming Shang
  • Irina Panyushkina
  • David Meko
  • Jinbao Li
  • Yujiang Yuan
  • Shulong Yu
  • Fahu ChenEmail author
  • Daming He
  • Xian Luo


The great rivers that flow from the southern Tibetan Plateau (TP) affect billions of people in the downstream countries of Asia. Understanding of the hydrological variability of these rivers is still limited, however, because of the lack of long-term streamflow records. Tree-ring width chronologies from six sites are applied to reconstruct annual streamflow of the Salween River, the last remaining large free-flowing transboundary river draining the southern TP, and a critical water source for countries of Southeast Asia. Response function analysis shows that precipitation is the main factor limiting the radial growth of the sampled trees. Linear regression of annual (September–June) Salween River streamflow on the first principal component of tree-ring chronologies explains 53.4% of the streamflow variance, 1958–2011, and yields a reconstruction for the interval 1500–2011 CE. A tally of droughts and wet periods emphasizes the severity of droughts before the start of the gauged records, and a tendency toward wetter conditions in recent decades. Regional temperature is negatively associated with the reconstructed streamflow. Cold wet summers controlled by the Asian summer monsoon are responsible for an increasing trend in streamflow over the last decades. Reconstructed hydrological change is linked to the history of mainland Southeast Asia through the impact of water shortages on Burma society. In particular, prolonged periods of low flow of the Salween River coincide with the falls of the Toungoo Empires and the First Anglo-Burmese War. This tree-ring reconstruction provides a long-term perspective on hydrological changes in the Upper Salween River Basin that can give insight for sustainable water management on the TP and in Myanmar.


Southern Tibetan Plateau Tree rings Salween River Streamflow reconstruction 



This work was supported by NSFC (award #91547115), the National Key R&D Program of China (award #2016YFA0601600), NSFC (award #41601026), Science and Technology Planning Project of Yunnan Province, China (No. 2017FB073) and the National Youth Talent Support Program.


  1. Agafonov LI, Meko D, Panyushkina IP (2016) Reconstruction of Ob River discharge, Russia, from ring widths of floodplain trees. J Hydrol 543:198–217Google Scholar
  2. Allen KJ, Nichols SC, Evans R, Allie S, Carson G, Ling F, Cook ER, Lee G, Baker PJ (2017) A 277 year cool season dam inflow reconstruction for Tasmania, southeastern Australia. Water Resour Res 53(1):400–414Google Scholar
  3. Barnett TP, Adam JC, Lettenmaier DP (2005) Potential impacts of a warming climate on water availability in snow-dominated regions. Nature 438(7066):303Google Scholar
  4. Barria P, Peel MC, Walsh KJ, Muñoz A (2018) The first 300-year streamflow reconstruction of a high-elevation river in Chile using tree rings. Int J Climatol 38(1):436–451Google Scholar
  5. Blanford HF (1884) On the connexion of the Himalaya snowfall with dry winds and seasons of drought in India. Proc R Soc Lond 37(232–234):3–22Google Scholar
  6. Bose S (1990) Starvation amidst plenty: the making of famine in Bengal, Honan and Tonkin, 1942–45. Mod Asian Stud 24(4):699–727Google Scholar
  7. Bräuning A, Mantwill B (2004) Summer temperature and summer monsoon history on the Tibetan Plateau during the last 400 years recorded by tree rings. Geophy Res Lett 31:L24205. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brönnimann S (2005) The global climate anomaly 1940–1942. Weather 60(12):336–342Google Scholar
  9. Buckley BM, Palakit K, Duangsathaporn K, Sanguantham P, Prasomsin P (2007) Decadal scale droughts over northwestern Thailand over the past 448 years: links to the tropical Pacific and Indian Ocean sectors. Clim Dyn 29(1):63–71Google Scholar
  10. Buckley BM, Anchukaitis KJ, Penny D, Fletcher R, Cook ER, Sano M, Nam LC, Wichienkeeo A, Minhe TT, Hong TM (2010) Climate as a contributing factor in the demise of Angkor, Cambodia. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 107(15):6748–6752Google Scholar
  11. Chen F, Yuan YJ, Zhang RB, Wang HQ, Shang HM, Zhang TW, Qin L, Fan ZA (2016a) Shiyang River streamflow since AD 1765, reconstructed by tree rings, contains far-reaching hydro-climatic signals over and beyond the mid-latitude Asian continent. Hydrol Proce 30(13):2211–2222Google Scholar
  12. Chen F, Yuan Y, Davi N, Zhang T (2016b) Upper Irtysh River flow since AD 1500 as reconstructed by tree rings, reveals the hydroclimatic signal of inner Asia. Clim Change 139(3–4):651–665Google Scholar
  13. Chen F, Shang H, Panyushkina IP, Meko DM, Yu S, Yuan Y, Chen FH (2019) Tree-ring reconstruction of Lhasa River streamflow reveals 472 years of hydrologic change on southern Tibetan Plateau. J Hydrol 572:169–178Google Scholar
  14. Choudhury AM (2008) Climate of Bangladesh. Encyclop Flora Fauna Bangladesh 1:87–102Google Scholar
  15. Cook ER (1985) A time series approach to tree-ring standardization. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Arizona, TucsonGoogle Scholar
  16. Cook ER, Anchukaitis KJ, Buckley BM, D’Arrigo RD, Jacoby GC, Wright WE (2010) Asian monsoon failure and megadrought during the last millennium. Science 328(5977):486–489Google Scholar
  17. Cook ER, Palmer JG, Ahmed M, Woodhouse CA, Fenwick P, Zafar MU, Wahab M, Khan N (2013) Five centuries of Upper Indus River flow from tree rings. J Hydrol 486:365–375Google Scholar
  18. Cook ER et al (2015) Old World megadroughts and pluvials during the Common Era. Sci Adv 1(10):e1500561Google Scholar
  19. Cook BI, Anchukaitis KJ, Touchan R, Meko DM, Cook ER (2016) Spatiotemporal drought variability in the Mediterranean over the last 900 years. J Geophy Res: Atmos 121(5):2060–2074Google Scholar
  20. Coulthard B, Smith DJ, Meko DM (2016) Is worst-case scenario streamflow drought underestimated in British Columbia? A multi-century perspective for the south coast, derived from tree-rings. J Hydrol 534:205–218Google Scholar
  21. Davi NK, Pederson N, Leland C, Nachin B, Suran B, Jacoby GC (2013) Is eastern Mongolia drying? A long-term perspective of a multidecadal trend. Water Resour Res 49(1):151–158Google Scholar
  22. Dũng BM (1995) Japan’s role in the Vietnamese starvation of 1944–45. Mod Asian Stud 29(3):573–618Google Scholar
  23. Fan ZX, Bräuning A, Cao KF (2008) Tree-ring based drought reconstruction in the central Hengduan Mountains region (China) since AD 1655. Int J Climatol 28:1879–1887Google Scholar
  24. Fang KY, Gou XH, Chen FH, Li JB, D’Arrigo R, Cook E, Yang T, Davi N (2010) Reconstructed droughts for the southeastern Tibetan Plateau over the past 568 years and its linkages to the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean climate variability. Clim Dyn 35:577–585Google Scholar
  25. Ferrero ME, Villalba R, De Membiela M, Hidalgo LF, Luckman BH (2015) Tree-ring based reconstruction of Río Bermejo streamflow in subtropical South America. J Hydrol 525:572–584Google Scholar
  26. Forsythe N, Fowler HJ, Li XF, Blenkinsop S, Pritchard D (2017) Karakoram temperature and glacial melt driven by regional atmospheric circulation variability. Nat Clim Change 7(9):664Google Scholar
  27. Fritts HC (1976) Tree rings and climate. The Blackburn Press, CaldwellGoogle Scholar
  28. Gan R, Luo Y, Zuo Q, Sun L (2015) Effects of projected climate change on the glacier and runoff generation in the Naryn River Basin, Central Asia. J Hydrol 523:240–251Google Scholar
  29. Garnaut A (2013) A quantitative description of the Henan famine of 1942. Mod Asian Stud 47(6):2007–2045Google Scholar
  30. Gou X, Deng Y, Chen FH, Yang M, Fang K, Gao L, Yang T, Zhang F (2010) Tree-ring based streamflow reconstruction for the Upper Yellow River over the past 1234 years. Chin Sci Bull 55(36):4179–4186Google Scholar
  31. Gou X, Yang T, Gao L, Deng Y, Yang M, Chen FH (2013) A 457-year reconstruction of precipitation in the southeastern Qinghai–Tibet Plateau, China using tree-ring records. Chin Sci Bull 58(10):1107–1114Google Scholar
  32. Grove R, Adamson G (2018) El Niño in the twentieth century. El Niño in world history. Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp 181–197Google Scholar
  33. Grumbine RE, Xu J (2011) Mekong hydropower development. Science 332(6026):178–179Google Scholar
  34. Güner HT, Köse N, Harley GL (2017) A 200-year reconstruction of Kocasu River (Sakarya River Basin, Turkey) streamflow derived from a tree-ring network. Int J Biometeorol 61(3):427–437Google Scholar
  35. Harley GL, Maxwell JT (2018) Current declines of Pecos River (New Mexico, USA) streamflow in a 700-year context. Holocene 28(5):767–777Google Scholar
  36. Harris I, Jones PD, Osborn TJ, Lister DH (2014) Updated high-resolution grids of monthly climatic observations—the CRU TS3. Int J Climatol 34(3):623–642Google Scholar
  37. Harvey GE (2000) History of Burma. Asian Educational ServicesGoogle Scholar
  38. Ho M, Lall U, Sun X, Cook ER (2017) Multiscale temporal variability and regional patterns in 555 years of conterminous US streamflow. Water Resour Res 53(4):3047–3066Google Scholar
  39. Holmes RL (1983) Computer assisted quality control in tree-ring dating and measurement. Tree-Ring Bull 43:69–78Google Scholar
  40. Huff G (2019) Causes and consequences of the Great Vietnam Famine, 1944–5. Econ History Rev 72(1):286–316Google Scholar
  41. Immerzeel WW, Van Beek LP, Bierkens MF (2010) Climate change will affect the Asian water towers. Science 328(5984):1382–1385Google Scholar
  42. Lara A, Bahamondez A, González-Reyes A, Muñoz AA, Cuq E, Ruiz-Gómez C (2015) Reconstructing streamflow variation of the Baker River from tree-rings in Northern Patagonia since 1765. J Hydrol 529:511–523Google Scholar
  43. Law-Smith A (1989) Response and responsibility: the government of India’s role in the Bengal famine, 1943. S Asia J S Asian Stud 12(1):49–65Google Scholar
  44. Li JP, Zeng QC (2002) A unified monsoon index. Geophy Res Lett 29(8):1274. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Li J, Cook ER, Chen FH, Gou XH, D’Arrigo R, Yuan YJ (2010) An extreme drought event in the central Tien Shan area in the year 1945. J Arid Environ 74(10):1225–1231Google Scholar
  46. Li J, Xie SP, Cook ER, Huang G, D’Arrigo R, Liu F, Ma J, Zheng XT (2011) Interdecadal modulation of El Niño amplitude during the past millennium. Nat Clim Change 1:114–118Google Scholar
  47. Li J, Shi J, Zhang DD, Yang B, Fang K, Yue PH (2017) Moisture increase in response to high-altitude warming evidenced by tree-rings on the southeastern Tibetan Plateau. Clim Dyn 48(1–2):649–660Google Scholar
  48. Li W, Guo W, Qiu B, Xue Y, Hsu PC, Wei J (2018) Influence of Tibetan Plateau snow cover on East Asian atmospheric circulation at medium-range time scales. Nat Commun 9(1):4243Google Scholar
  49. Lieberman VB (2003) Strange parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800–1830, volume 1, Integration on the Mainland. Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  50. Liu Y, Sun J, Song H, Cai Q, Bao G, Li X (2010) Tree-ring hydrologic reconstructions for the Heihe River watershed, western China since AD 1430. Water Res 44:2781–2792Google Scholar
  51. Liu ZF, Yao YJ, Duan R (2012) Changes in precipitation and air temperature and its impacts on runoff in the Nujiang River basin. Resour Sci 34:202–210Google Scholar
  52. Loo YY, Billa L, Singh A (2015) Effect of climate change on seasonal monsoon in Asia and its impact on the variability of monsoon rainfall in Southeast Asia. Geosci Front 6(6):817–823Google Scholar
  53. Lu XX, Siew RY (2006) Water discharge and sediment flux changes over the past decades in the Lower Mekong River: possible impacts of the Chinese dams. Hydrol Earth Sys Sci 10(2):181–195Google Scholar
  54. Lutz AF, Immerzeel WW, Shrestha AB, Bierkens MFP (2014) Consistent increase in High Asia’s runoff due to increasing glacier melt and precipitation. Nat Clim Change 4(7):587Google Scholar
  55. Meehl GA (1994) Influence of the land surface in the Asian summer monsoon: External conditions versus internal feedbacks. J Clim 7(7):1033–1049Google Scholar
  56. Meko DM, Friedman JM, Touchan R, Edmondson JR, Griffin ER, Scott JA (2015) Alternative standardization approaches to improving streamflow reconstructions with ring-width indices of riparian trees. The Holocene 25(7):1093–1101Google Scholar
  57. Michaelsen J (1987) Cross-validation in statistical climate forecast models. J Clim Appl Meteorol 26(11):1589–1600Google Scholar
  58. Mishra V, Tiwari AD, Aadhar S, Shah R, Xiao M, Pai DS, Lettenmaier D (2019) Drought and Famine in India, 1870–2016. Geophy Res Lett 46(4):2075–2083Google Scholar
  59. Misra KG, Yadav RR, Misra S (2015) Satluj river flow variations since AD 1660 based on tree-ring network of Himalayan cedar from western Himalaya, India. Quat Int 371:135–143Google Scholar
  60. Mokria M, Gebrekirstos A, Abiyu A, Noordwijk MV, Bräuning A (2017) Multi-century tree-ring precipitation record reveals increasing frequency of extreme dry events in the upper Blue Nile River catchment. Global Change Biol. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Osborn TJ, Briffa KR, Jones PD (1997) Adjusting variance for sample size in tree-ring chronologies and other regional mean timeseries. Dendrochronologia 15:89–99Google Scholar
  62. Padmanabhan SY (1973) The great Bengal famine. Annu Rev Phytopathol 11(1):11–24Google Scholar
  63. Panyushkina IP, Meko DM, Macklin MG, Toonen WHJ, Mukhamadiev NS, Konovalov VG, Ashikbaev NZ, Sagitov AO (2018) Runoff variations in Lake Balkhash Basin, Central Asia, 1779–2015, inferred from tree rings. Clim Dyn. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Seftigen K, Björklund J, Cook ER, Linderholm HW (2015) A tree-ring field reconstruction of Fennoscandian summer hydroclimate variability for the last millennium. Clim Dyn 44(11–12):3141–3154Google Scholar
  65. Shaman J, Tziperman E (2005) The effect of ENSO on Tibetan Plateau snow depth: a stationary wave teleconnection mechanism and implications for the South Asian monsoons. J Clim 18(12):2067–2079Google Scholar
  66. Shao X, Xu Y, Yin ZY, Liang E, Zhu H, Wang S (2010) Climatic implications of a 3585-year tree-ring width chronology from the northeastern Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau. Q Sci Rev 29:2111–2122Google Scholar
  67. Shi F, Fang K, Xu C, Guo Z, Borgaonkar HP (2017) Interannual to centennial variability of the South Asian summer monsoon over the past millennium. Clim Dyn 49:2803–2814Google Scholar
  68. Stahl K, Moore RD, Shea JM, Hutchinson D, Cannon AJ (2008) Coupled modelling of glacier and streamflow response to future climate scenarios. Water Resour Res 44:W02422. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Starheim CC, Smith DJ, Prowse TD (2013) Dendrohydroclimate reconstructions of July–August runoff for two nival-regime rivers in west central British Columbia. Hydrol Proc 27(3):405–420Google Scholar
  70. Tauger MB (2009) The Indian famine crises of World War II. Brit Sch 1(2):166–196Google Scholar
  71. Torrence C, Compo GP (1998) A practical guide to wavelet analysis. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 79:61–78Google Scholar
  72. Urrutia RB, Lara A, Villalba R, Christie DA, Le Quesne C, Cuq A (2011) Multicentury tree ring reconstruction of annual streamflow for the Maule River watershed in south central Chile. Water Resour Res 47:W06527. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Verdon-Kidd DC, Hancock GR, Lowry JB (2017) A 507-year rainfall and runoff reconstruction for the Monsoonal North West, Australia derived from remote paleoclimate archives. Global Planet Change 158:21–35Google Scholar
  74. Vernekar AD, Zhou J, Shukla J (1995) The effect of Eurasian snow cover on the Indian monsoon. J Clim 8(2):248–266Google Scholar
  75. Wang H, Chen F (2017) Increased stream flow in the Nu River (Salween) Basin of China, due to climatic warming and increased precipitation. Geogr Ann: A 99(4):327–337Google Scholar
  76. Wang L, Duan J, Chen J, Huang L, Shao X (2010) Temperature reconstruction from tree-ring maximum density of Balfour spruce in eastern Tibet, China. Int J Climatol 30(7):972–979Google Scholar
  77. Wigley T, Briffa KR, Jones PD (1984) On the average value of correlated time series, with applications in dendroclimatology and hydrometeorology. J Clim Appl Meteorol 23:201–213Google Scholar
  78. Woodhouse CA, Pederson GT (2018) Investigating runoff efficiency in Upper Colorado River streamflow over past centuries. Water Resour Res. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wu Z, Li J, Jiang Z, Ma T (2012) Modulation of the Tibetan Plateau snow cover on the ENSO teleconnections: From the East Asian summer monsoon perspective. J Clim 25(7):2481–2489Google Scholar
  80. Xiao Z, Duan A (2016) Impacts of Tibetan Plateau snow cover on the interannual variability of the East Asian summer monsoon. J Clim 29(23):8495–8514Google Scholar
  81. Xiao D, Shao X, Qin N, Huang X (2017) Tree-ring-based reconstruction of streamflow for the Zaqu River in the Lancang River source region, China, over the past 419 years. Int J Biometeorol 61(7):1173–1189Google Scholar
  82. Xie L, Zhang Y, Panda JP (2018) Mismatched diplomacy: China–India water relations over the Ganges–Brahmaputra–Meghna River Basin. J Contemp China 27(109):32–46Google Scholar
  83. Xing P, Zhang QB, Lv LX (2014) Absence of late-summer warming trend over the past two and half centuries on the eastern Tibetan Plateau. Global Planet Change 123:27–35Google Scholar
  84. Xu W, Ma L, Ma M, Zhang H, Yuan W (2017) Spatial–temporal variability of snow cover and depth in the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau. J Clim 30(4):1521–1533Google Scholar
  85. Yang B, Qin C, Shi F, Sonechkin DM (2012) Tree ring-based annual streamflow reconstruction for the Heihe River in arid northwestern China from AD 575 and its implications for water resource management. Holocene 22:773–784Google Scholar
  86. Yang B, Qin C, Wang J, He M, Melvin TM, Osborn TJ, Briffa KR (2014) A 3,500-year tree-ring record of annual precipitation on the northeastern Tibetan Plateau. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 111(8):2903–2908Google Scholar
  87. Yao T, Xue Y, Chen D, Chen F, Thompson L, Cui P, Zhang R (2018) Recent Third Pole’s rapid warming accompanies cryospheric melt and water cycle intensification and interactions between monsoon and environment: multi-disciplinary approach with observation, modeling and analysis. B AM Soc. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Yin ZY, Zhu H, Huang L, Shao X (2016) Reconstruction of biological drought conditions during the past 2847 years in an alpine environment of the northeastern Tibetan Plateau, China, and possible linkages to solar forcing. Global Planet Change 143:214–227Google Scholar
  89. You W, Guo Z, He D (2007) Variation in transboundary flow of Nujiang River and its correlation with summer monsoon under the effect of the Longitudinal Range-Gorge. Chin Sci Bull 52(2):148–155Google Scholar
  90. You Q, Kang S, Ren G, Fraedrich K, Pepin N, Yan Y, Ma L (2011) Observed changes in snow depth and number of snow days in the eastern and central Tibetan Plateau. Clim Res 46(2):171–183Google Scholar
  91. Zhang RB, Yuan YJ, Gou XH, Yang Q, Wei WS, Yu SL, Zhang TW, Shang HM, Chen F, Fan ZA, Qin L (2016) Streamflow variability for the Aksu River on the southern slopes of the Tien Shan inferred from tree ring records. Quatern Res 85(3):371–379Google Scholar
  92. Zhang Y, Tian Q, Guillet S, Stoffel M (2017) 500-year precipitation variability in Southern Taihang Mountains, China, and its linkages to ENSO and PDO. Clim Change 144(3):419–432Google Scholar
  93. Zhao J, Chen CK (1999) Geography of China (in Chinese). Higher Education Press, BeijingGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Yunnan Key Laboratory of International Rivers and Transboundary Eco-Security, Institute of International Rivers and Eco-SecurityYunnan UniversityKunmingChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Tree-ring Physical and Chemical Research of China Meteorological Administration/Xinjiang Laboratory of Tree-ring EcologyInstitute of Desert Meteorology, China Meteorological AdministrationUrumqiChina
  3. 3.Laboratory of Tree-Ring ResearchUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  4. 4.Department of GeographyUniversity of Hong KongHong KongChina
  5. 5.Institute of Tibetan Plateau ResearchChinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)BeijingChina

Personalised recommendations