The drought history of central Texas

Beginning in May, 2009, the Environmental Science Institute at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) partnered with the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority (GBRA) and the University of Arkansas Tree Ring Lab (UA) to study and reconstruct the drought history of central Texas over the past several hundred years. The results of this study and implications for Texas climate and water resources are presented in the Texas Water Journal in a research article entitled Extended chronology of drought in South Central, Southeastern and West Texas. For more information and media coverage of this research, please see articles in in Austin-American Statesman, as well as articles in the Texas Tribune and the San Antonio Current, and segments on KUT Radio and Good Day Austin.

Participants include principal investigator Dr. Malcolm Cleaveland (UA), Dr. Todd Votteler (GBRA), Dr. Jay Banner (UT), undergraduate research assistant Dan Stahle (UA), and graduate research assistant Richard Casteel (UT).

button-video button-document
A video introduction to the project with Drs. Votteler and Cleaveland is available on the Edwards Aquifer website Study Results and Implications available in the Texas Water Journal Texas Parks & Wildlife presents Studying Cypress Trees, the Climate Detective, available on YouTube.

The goal of the study is to core bald cypress trees (Figure 1) to reconstruct the drought history of central Texas. Bald cypress trees have a distinct advantage over previously reconstructed post oak chronologies in that they are a longer lived species. It is a goal of the study to extend the drought record back to the 13th century. This is important as: (1) the region experiences periods of unpredictable drought; (2) the instrumental record of drought only extends to the late 1800s; (3) previous drought reconstructions only extend to 1698; (4) a longer chronology is needed to determine trends or cycles in drought; (5) there is a possibility of past “mega droughts” lasting more than a decade; (6) determining trends in drought can assist water planners in future resource management; (7) Texas has been identified as a potential “hot spot” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for future climate change.

Bald cypress trees were cored in many locales in central Texas. The sites with the oldest and most abundant trees were found at the Guadalupe River State Park (Figure 2), Krause Springs in Spicewood, TX (Figure 3), and along the San Bernard River near Rosenberg, TX (Figure 4).

Additional Information:

Guadalupe Blanco River Authority

The Ultimate Tree Ring Web Pages, operated by Dr. Henri Grissino-Mayer of the Department of Geography at the University of Tennesee  – the ultimate tree ring page.