Tree-ring stable isotopes are insightful proxies providing information on pre-instrumental climate fluctuations, yet the variability of these data within a tree trunk has not been fully explored. Here, we analyze longitudinal and circumferential changes in tree-ring δ13C values from 1991–2010, considering seven height levels from 1 to 13 m above ground and six sampling directions (radii) separated by 60° around the stem. The disk samples were taken from a 360-year old European larch (Larix decidua Mill.) that grew at 1675 m above sea level in the Simplon Valley, Switzerland. Results show that the circumferential δ13C variability, defined as the difference between the minimum and maximum isotope values within a single ring at a certain height, ranges from 0.5 to 2.8‰. These differences appear substantial as they match the range of year-to-year variations retained in long tree-ring δ13C time series used for climate reconstruction. The assessment of longitudinal variability demonstrated a systematic change of ~0.1‰ m−1 towards isotopically heavier (less negative) δ13C values with increasing tree height, likely reflecting a vertical gradient towards isotopically heavier needle tissue due to changing microclimatic conditions and CO2 stratification within the canopy. Calibration against regional climate data indicates no substantial signal changes in δ13C values within the trunk. We conclude that the longitudinal isotope gradient adds uncertainty to long δ13C chronologies derived from subfossil material of unknown (and changing) sampling heights. The large circumferential variability recorded in the sub-alpine larch suggests that more than two cores are needed to analyze absolute δ13C values representative for each tree.
Agriculture, Forestry, Horticulture, Fishery, Domestic Science, Nutrition