Historical Records of Alpine Timberline from Henry Gannett’s 19th Century Publications

Authors: Clayton Whitesides*, Coastal Carolina University
Topics: Mountain Environments, Biogeography, Physical Geography
Keywords: Mountains, Timberline, Treeline, Gannett, Historical Records
Session Type: Virtual Guided Poster
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 53
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Although, dendrochronology, repeat photography, and remote sensing have been used to document location and understand dynamics at timberline in the American West, few studies have examined the accuracy of historical timberline records and their potential for climate change analysis. To determine if historical records contain useful timberline data, the elevation of timberline for 28 mountain peaks was obtained from Henry Gannett’s 1882 and 1899 publications, both titled, “The Timberline”. Gannett’s reported elevations were compared to data from recent literature, as well as timberline locations derived from remotely sensed data and vegetation layers on 2015 USGS Quad maps. Gannett’s reported timberline elevations ranged from an overestimate of 374.90 meters on Mount Hood, Oregon to an underestimate of 307.85 meters on Mount Delano, Montana, when compared to elevations obtained from recent literature and 2015 imagery and maps. On average, Gannett’s timberline elevations were 39.54 meters higher than present. With the exception of two peaks in Montana, Gannett consistently reported timberline above current levels in Pacific Northwest and Pacific mountain ranges. Most of Gannett’s research was conducted in Colorado, where he inconsistently reported timberline elevations on peaks within mountain ranges that were above or below current levels. Gannett’s most accurate report was on Mount Park View, Colorado, where he over calculated by 3.05 meters. Although Gannett’s conceptual ideas around the controls of alpine timberline are worth remembering, his reports of actual timberline location may be of little value to modern research on timberline dynamics.

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