Recent glacier recession - A new source of postglacial treeline and climate history in the Swedish Scandes

  • Lisa Öberg Mid Sweden University, Department of Natural Sciences, Engineering and Mathematics, SE 85170 Sundsvall, Sweden
  • Leif Kullman Umeå University, Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, SE 90187 Umeå, Sweden;
Keywords: Climate change, Glacier forefields, Holocene, Megafossil trees, Mountain birch, Paleoclimate, Pine, Vegetation history


Climate warming during the past century has imposed recession of glaciers and perennial snow/ice patches along the entire Swedish Scandes. On the newly exposed forefields, subfossil wood remnants are being outwashed from beneath ice and snow bodies. In Scandinavia, this kind of detrital wood is a previously unused source of postglacial vegetation and climate history. The present study reports radiocarbon dates of a set of 78 wood samples, retrieved from three main sites, high above modern treelines and stretching along the Swedish Scandes. In accord with previous studies, pine (Pinus sylvestris) colonized early emerging nunataks already during the Late Glacial. Around 9600-9500 cal. yr BP a first massive wave of tree establishment, birch and pine, took place in "empty" glacier cirques. Both species grew 400-600 m above their present-ay treeline position and the summer temperatures may have been 3.5 oC warmer than present. In respons to Neoglacial cooling, treelines of both birch and pine descended until their final disappearance from the record 4400 and 5900 cal. yr BP, respectively. During the entire interval 9600 to 4400 cal. yr BP, birch prospered in a 100-150 broad belt above the uppermost pines. The recent emergence of tree remnants in the current habitats relates to the contemporary episode of climate warming, possibly unprecedented for several past millennia. It is inferred, by an anology with the past, that in a future scenario with summers 3.5 °warmer than present, the birch treeline may rise by 600 m or so.

How to Cite
Öberg, L.; Kullman, L. Recent Glacier Recession - A New Source of Postglacial Treeline and Climate History in the Swedish Scandes. LO 2011, 26, 1-38.
Research Article