Aspen Bibliography


Climate, 1650-1850


Scott Stine

Document Type

Contribution to Book


Volume II: Assessment of scientific basis for managment options



First Page


Last Page


Publication Date



Climate exerts a profound influence on landscape by determining the flux of both energy (solar radiation) and mass (rain, snow, and water vapor). If climate changes significantly, the landscape can be expected to respond geomorphologically, hydrologically, and biologi- cally. These individual responses, in turn, can feed on one another, creating a cascade of landscape perturbations.

Around 1850, just as large numbers of Europeans descended on the Sierra Nevada for the first time, the region experienced a marked shift in climate, from the abnormally cool and moderately dry condi- tions of the previous two centuries (the “Little Ice Age”), to the rela- tively warm and wet conditions that have characterized the past 145 years. This climatic shift should concern land managers for two inter- related reasons: First, the landscape changes that have occurred since 1850 may not be entirely anthropogenic but rather attributable in part to the shift in climate. Second, the landscape of the immedi- ate pre–gold rush period should not be considered an exact model for what the Sierra would be today had Europeans never colonized the region. Thus, attempts to restore “natural conditions” as part of an overall Sierra Nevada management plan should focus not on the pre-European landscape but rather on the landscape that would have evolved during the past century and a half in the absence of Euro- peans.