Higher-than-present Medieval pine (Pinus sylvestris) treeline along the Swedish Scandes

  • Leif Kullman Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University, Umeå, SE-901 87, Sweden
Keywords: Climate change, Little ice age, Medieval warm period, Megafossils, Pinus sylvestris, Swedish scandes, Treeline


The upper treeline of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) is renowned as a sensitive indicator of climate change and variability. By use of megafossil tree remains, preserved exposed on the ground surface, treeline shift over the past millennium was investigated at multiple sites along the Scandes in northern Sweden. Difference in thermal level between the present and the Medieval period, about AD 1000-1200, is a central, although controversial, aspect concerning the detection and attribution of anthropogenic climate warming. Radiocarbon-dated megafossil pines revealed that the treeline was consistently positioned as much as 115 m higher during the Medieval period than today (AD 2000-2010), after a century of warming and substantial treeline upshift. Drawing on the last-mentioned figure, and a lapse rate of 0.6oC/100 m, it may be inferred that Medieval summer temperatures were about 0.7 oC warmer than much of the past 100 years. Extensive pine mortality and treeline descent after the Medieval warming peak reflect substantially depressed temperatures during the Little Ice Age. Warmer-than-present conditions during the Medieval period concur with temperature reconstructions from different parts of northern Fennoscandia, northwestern Russia and Greenland. Modern warming has not been sufficient to restore Medieval treelines. Against this background, there is little reason to view further modest warming as unnatural.

How to Cite
Kullman, L. Higher-Than-Present Medieval Pine (Pinus Sylvestris) Treeline Along the Swedish Scandes. LO 2015, 42, 1-14.
Research Article