• Scott St. George

    Environmental volatility | Paleoclimate | Natural hazards

    I am an Associate Professor (with tenure) in the Department of Geography, Environment and Society at the University of Minnesota, where I also serve as the Director of Graduate Studies. I am also a Fellow with Minnesota's Institute on the Environment, a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Germany), and Adjunct Professor in the School of Environmental Studies at Queen’s University (Canada).

     

    I am a physical geographer who specializes in environment volatility and its short-, intermediate- and long-term impacts on water resources, natural hazards, and human society. Because environmental systems vary on all time scales, understanding both their past changes and likely future behavior is absolutely crucial to ensure the safety of our communities and the security of our shared natural heritage. As a paleoclimatologist, I use evidence preserved in biological and geological archives to trace the history of Earth’s climate during the past several hundred or thousands of years, allowing us to set modern trends against a much longer context and to discover earlier events that are exceptional when compared to their more recent equivalents. And my group brings the same long-term thinking to bear on contemporary climate change, with active projects focused on decadal climate variability, hazard risk assessments, and renewable energy production. By looking backwards and forwards at the same time, our research aims to expand our perspective beyond the immediate present so we may better anticipate our environmental future, with particular attention given to topics related to climate, forests, and surface hydrology. Members of our group are currently leading field studies in the United States, Canada, Nepal, and Azerbaijan, and our work has received financial support from the US National Science Foundation, the US National Parks Service, the Humboldt Foundation, Environment Canada, Manitoba Hydro, and the University of Minnesota.

     

    Previously, I was a Research Scientist in the Geological Survey of Canada at Natural Resources Canada. I received my doctorate in geosciences from the University of Arizona, where I was affiliated with the Department of Geosciences and the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. I hold an M.Sc. in Geography from the University of Western Ontario and a B.Sc. in Geography from the University of Winnipeg.

  • Announcements & news

    Short blurbs on our latest products, upcoming meetings, and research opportunities at the University of Minnesota's Center for Dendrochronology.

    I am a bit late sharing this news, but I'm very happy to report that doctoral candidate Mara McPartland has won an Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship from the University of Minnesota Graduate School. Through this award, Mara will be seconded to UMN's Center for Forest Ecology for the 2020-21...
    In the midst of a very tough global landscape, I am so very happy to be able to share some extremely good news for one of the members of our research group. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has selected Uday Thapa as a postdoctoral fellow in their Climate and Global...
    This fall, I'll be offering a 3-credit graduate seminar on hydroclimatic extremes -- with emphasis on megadrought, 'monster' floods, and the impact of global warming on the twin wicked tails of global hydroclimate. We'll work through methods to estimate future risks of severe events, recent flood...
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  • Recent and forthcoming publications

    A complete list of my publications and other work is available via my c.v. [PDF], as well as my Google Scholar and ResearchGate profiles.

    Dating historic log buildings in the Fargo-Moorhead area of North Dakota and Minnesota, USA

    Joseph Zeleznik, Matthew Schlauderaff, Judith Avilia, Scott. St. George (in preparation)

    Common Era temperature realisations from tree rings

    Ulf Büntgen and 31 others (in preparation)

    The dendroclimatological potential of Common yew (Taxus baccata L.) from southern Azerbaijan

    Farid Seyfullayev, Scott St. George, Vahid Farzaliyev, Sébastien Guillet, Markus Stoffel, Uday Kunwar Thapa, Tree-Ring Research (in press)

    Quantifying spatial and temporal relationships among tree-ring records

    Megan Heyman, Scott St. George, Snigdhansu Chatterjee, Statistics and Applications (in press)

    Evidence of exceptional floods can be preserved in geological and botanical archives for centuries or millennia. Updated guidelines offer a new opportunity to apply lessons from paleoflood hydrology to better gauge the odds of future floods.

    Paleofloods stage a comeback

    Scott St. George, Amanda Hefner, Judith Avila, Nature Geoscience (accepted)

    Poleward excursions by the Himalayan subtropical jet over the past four centuries

    Uday Thapa, Scott St. George, Valerie Trouet, Geophysical Research Letters (in press) [AGU19] [ESS🌐AR]

    Does signal-free detrending increase chronology coherence in large tree-ring networks?

    Mara McPartland, Scott St. George, Greg Pederson, Kevin Anchukaitis Dendrochronologia 63, 125755, 2020 [DOI]

    Increased drought intensity tracks warming in the United States’ largest river basin

    Justin Martin, Greg Pederson, Connie Woodhouse, Ed Cook, Greg McCabe, Kevin Anchukaitis, Erica Wise and twelve others, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 201916208, 2020 [DOI] {PNAS Commentary] [Washington Post] {New York Times] [EurekAlert]

    A global perspective on the climate-driven growth synchrony of neighboring trees

    Ernesto Tejedor, Roberto Serrano-Notivoli, Martín de Luis Arrillaga, Miguel Ángel Saz Sánchez, Claudia Hartl, Scott St. George, Ulf Büntgen, Andrew Liebhold, Mathias Vuille, Jan Esper, Global Ecology and Biogeography 29, 1114-1125, 2020 [DOI] [Phys Org]

    Climate dipoles as continental drivers of plant and animal populations

    Ben Zuckerberg, Courtenay Strong, Jalene LaMontangne, Scott St. George, Julio Betancourt, Walt Koenig, Trends in Ecology and Evolution 35, 440-453 [DOI] [W News] [Eos} [DePaul]

    Differing pre–industrial cooling trends between tree rings and lower–resolution temperature proxies

    Lara Klippel, Scott St. George, Ulf Büntgen, Paul Krusic, Jan Esper, Climate of the Past 16, 729–742, 2020 [DOI]

    The limits of freely-available tree-ring chronologies

    Bethany Coulthard, Scott St. George. David Meko, Quaternary Science Reviews 234, 102664, 2020 [DOI]

    Boosting the signal in scientific talks

    Scott St. George, Michael White, Nature 579, 621-622, 2020 [DOI]

    1200 years of Upper Missouri River streamflow reconstructed from tree rings

    Justin Martin, Gregory Pederson, Connie Woodhouse, Edward Cook, Gregory McCabe, Kevin Anchukaitis, Erika Wise and twelve others, Quaternary Science Reviews 224, 105971, 2019 [DOI]

    Warfare dendrochronology: Trees witness the deployment of the German battleship Tirpitz in Norway

    Claudia Hartl, Scott St. George, Oliver Konter, Lorenz Harr, Denis Scholz, Andreas Kirchhefer, Jan Esper, Anthropocene 27, 100212, 2019 [DOI] [BBC Science] [Eos] [As It Happens] [Smithsonian Magazine] [El Pais] [Botany One]

    Detecting climatic and human influences in the dry pine forests of eastern Nepal’s Koshi River basin

    Uday Thapa, Scott St. George. Forest Ecology and Management 440, 12-22, 2019 [DOI]

    The weight of the flood-of-record in flood frequency analysis

    Scott St. George, Manfred Mudelsee, Journal of Flood Risk Management 12, e12512, 2019 [DOI]

    A 1200+ year reconstruction of temperature extremes for the northeastern Mediterranean region

    Lara Klippel, Paul Krusic, Oliver Konter, Scott St. George, Valerie Trouet, Jan Esper, International Journal of Climatology 39, 2336-2350, 2019 [DOI]

    Concord and discord among Northern Hemisphere temperature reconstructions from tree rings

    Scott St. George, Jan Esper, Quaternary Science Reviews 203, 278-281, 2019 [DOI]

    Interpreting historical, geological, and botanical evidence to aid preparations for future floods

    PAGES Floods Working Group, WIREs Water e1318, 2019 [DOI]

    Unravelling the mysteries of megadrought

    Toby Ault, Scott St. George, Physics Today 71, 44-50, 2018 [DOI] [Physics Today companion]

    Mississippi rising

    Scott St. George, Nature 556, 34-35, 2018 [DOI] [Scientific American] [Washington Post]

    A robust null hypothesis for the potential causes of western megadrought

    Toby Ault, Scott St. George, Jason Smerdon, Sloan Coats, Justin Mankin, Carlos Carillo, Ben Cook, Samantha Stevenson, Journal of Climate 31, 3-24, 2018 [DOI] [Eureka Alert] [Cornell Chronicle] [Newsweek] [Physics Today]

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  • Current and FORMER GROUP MEMBERS

    As a mentor, I promote academic and professional development through examples drawn from my own experience working in universities and government and by guiding students to learning opportunities outside of their formal classes. As advisor, it’s my responsibility to be available for regular conversations about their projects (at least weekly, if not more often), provide timely and specific feedback on research products, and help them secure the equipment, permits, and resources they need to conduct their research. I try to help my students develop projects that are scientific interesting and socially relevant, and aim to give them enough responsibility so that they come to think of me as a guide rather than an authority or arbiter. I’m most proud of the fact that every single alumnus from our group (undergraduate and graduate) has found employment with universities, non-profit organizations, or federal and state agencies in positions that are directly connected to their skills and training.

    Mara McPartland

    Ph.D. in Geography (in progress)

    M.Sc. in Natural Resource Science and Management, 2017

    B.L.A in Ecology, Bennington College, 2012

    Dissertation title: Developing a paleoclimate framework for multi-decadal estimation of spring timing

    Judith Avila

    M.A. in Geography (in progress)

    B.Sc. in Geological Sciences, California State University - Fullerton, 2019
    Thesis topic: Paleohydrological assessment of extreme flooding events

    Lo Hansen

    B.Sc. in Geography (in progress)
    Undergraduate research project:: Historical accounts of 19th century floods in Minnesota's upper Mississippi and Red River basins

    Uday Kunwar Thapa

    Ph.D. in Geography, 2020

    M.Sc. in Environmental Science, Golden Gate International College, 2013

    B.Sc. in Environmental Science, College of Applied Science-Nepal, 2010

    Dissertation title: Investigating changes in forest growth and atmospheric circulation in the Himalayan region during the past four centuries

    Current position: NOAA Climate and Global Change Fellow, University of California, Santa Barbara

    Amanda Hefner

    M.A. in Geography, 2020

    B.Sc. in Geography and GISc, University of North Dakota, 2017

    Thesis title: Holocene paleofloods in the United States and their relevance to flood mitigation, hazard assessment and policy

    Dr. Farid Seyfullayev

    Fulbright Visiting Scholar, 2018

    Award title: Studying climate change and reconstruction of past climate, floods and extreme events in Azerbaijan

    Current position: Research scientist, Central Botanical Garden of Azerbaijan {Fulbright Program]

    Xinran Duan

    B.Sc. in Mathematics, 2018

    Undergraduate research project: Quantifying long-term trends in the Red River of the North

    Current position: Data Engineer, Target

    Jacob Arndt

    B.Sc. in Geography, 2016

    Undergraduate research project: Climate variability and its relationship with air travel times in the Seattle-Minneapolis corridor

    Current position: Research Associate, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

    Dan Crawford

    B.Sc. in Geography, 2015

    Undergraduate research project: Expressing global temperature change through music

    Current position: Graduate student, University of Minnesota [Slate] [New York Times]

    Sarah Appleton

    M.A. in Geography, 2015

    B.A. in Geology, College of Wooster, 2012

    Thesis title: Mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) growth and cool-season precipitation in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

    Current position: Education Product and Programs Specialist, National Geographic

    Emily Smoter

    B.Sc. in Plant Biology, 2014

    Directed research project: Growth boundaries of Swietenia macrophylla and Cedrela odorata from a subtropical dry forest in Guanacaste, Costa Rica and their potential application in dendrochronology

    Current position: State Environmental Manager, Minnesota Air National Guard

    Xiaolu (Grace) Li

    M.A. in Geography, 2014

    B.Sc. in Geography, B.E. in Economics, Beijing University, 2012

    Thesis title: Assessing forward modeling of tree-ring growth and the impacts of non-climatic factors on tree-ring width in the Northern Hemisphere

    Current position: Postdoctoral Researcher, Cornell University

    Max Torbenson

    M.A. in Geography, 2013

    B.Sc. in Archaeology/Palaeoecology, Queen's University (Belfast), 2011

    Thesis title: Assessing the response of upper montane forests to decadal variability in winter precipitation

    Current position: Postdoctoral Researcher, The Ohio State University

    Erika Wertz

    B.Sc. (Honors) in Geography, 2012
    Thesis title: Testing whether vessel characteristics in bur oak can serve as proxies for severe Red River floods within the United States

    Current position: Forest Health Specialist, Idaho Department of Lands [CLA Alumni interview]

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  • Visual aids

    I regularly lecture on climate change, water resources, tree rings, and scientific presentations. Visual aids for some of my recent talks are available to view online at Slideshare.

    How long do trees remember?

    Much of what we know regarding variations in Earth's climate during the past millennium comes from tree rings. But tree rings, like other proxies, attenuate some climate signals but amplify others, and their fidelity at longer timescales is difficult to gage. Even though dendroclimatology is well-established, questions remain about the climate clues encoded in tree rings — particularly at decadal-to-centennial timescales.

    Historic accounts of extreme floods on the Red River of the North

    Here I explain how Canadian and American communities along the Red River of the North have developed fundamentally different responses to the threat of flooding, and argue that these differences in flood mitigation reflect disparate experiences with particular floods during the past two hundred years.

     

    Flood rings: Paleoflood evidence in tree-ring anatomy

    In low-gradient, low energy rivers, forms of tree-ring evidence such as impact scars or stem deformation do not provide useful evidence of past floods. In this talk, I explain the strengths and limitations of wood anatomy as tools in paleoflood hydrology.

    Disentangling the decadal ‘knot’ in high-resolution paleoclimatology

    In this talk, we’ll discuss some of the challenges inherent to the use of high-resolution proxies to study decadal or multi-decadal climate variability, and suggest strategies that might clarify how climate acts on those timescales.

    The need for new theory in global dendroclimatology

    We hope this talk will encourage the sharing of ideas on how best to extract climate information from the ever-expanding network of tree-ring records across our planet and help open a discussion on the relevance of our standard theoretical framework to contemporary global dendroclimatology.

    Solar ghosts: Weighing the evidence for sunspot cycles in fossil trees

    In this talk, I argue the fossil tree-ring record from Chemnitz does not constitute reliable evidence of solar activity during the Permian because the individual tree-ring sequences are not correctly aligned and, as a result, the mean ring-width composite is not a meaningful estimate of year-to-year variations in tree growth in this ancient forest.

    Long droughts: Using natural climate archives to gage the risks of future “megadroughts”

    In this short talk, I’ll describe how climate scientists combine clues from natural weather archives (including corals, tree rings, lake sediments, and many other sources) to reveal the history of ancient megadroughts across our planet.

    Expecting the unexpected: The relevance of old floods to modern hydrology

    Because large floods are rare and river gage records are short, the conventional approach to flood-frequency analysis can sometimes drastically underestimate the threat posed to communities and infrastructure by extreme floods. In this lecture, I’ll argue that paleoflood hydrology is absolutely essential to judge the real risk of large, rare floods.

    What to expect when you’re expecting decadal variability in hydroclimatic proxies

    if simulated drought patterns generated by a simple statistical emulator are able to match the frequency, intensity, or spatial extent of droughts reconstructed by proxies, that implies that exotic forcings are not required to produce widespread megadroughts in the western United States.

    Trees as flood sensors

    Future paleoflood research involving tree rings will need to strike a balance between improving our understanding of the biological and fluvial processes that link tree growth to past events, and providing answers to questions about flood dynamics and hazards that are needed to safeguard people and property from future floods.

     

    Making climate data sing

    Music is inherently narrative and is known to exert a powerful influence on human emotions. Here we report on a collaboration between scientists and artists at the University of Minnesota that uses data sonification with added musical elements to transmit the evidence of climate change in an engaging and visceral way.

    Noah, Joseph, and high-resolution paleoclimatology

    In 1968, Benoit Mandelbrot and James Wallis published an article titled ‘Noah, Joseph, and operational Hydrology’ in the journal Water Resources Research. In it, they argued that hydrological models of the day were not able to estimate the true risk of extreme floods or prolonged drought, and that rare hydrological events were much more common than usually assumed. In this lecture, I’ll review how high-resolution paleoenvironmental archives can help us judge more accurately the risks posed by the ‘Noah’- and ‘Joseph’-style events described by Mandelbrot and Wallis.

  • Courses

    At the undergraduate level, I teach advanced classes in dendrochronology (which uses annual growth rings in trees to understand how our environment has behaved in the past) and Holocene paleoclimatology (focused on the evolution of Earth’s climate since the end of the last ice age), as well as an introductory course in biogeography.

     

    I also offer graduate courses in paleoclimatology, climatology, and science communication, and supervises graduate students conducting research on water resources, decade-to-centennial scale climate variability, and hemispheric-scale dendroclimatology.

    GEOG1403

    Biogeography of the Global Garden

     

    syllabus

    GEOG3839/5839

    Introduction to Dendrochronology

     

    syllabus | we​bsite

    GEOG3900

    Global Freshwater in the 21st Century

     

    syllabus | website

    GEOG5426

    Climate Variations

     

    syllabus | website

    GEOG8260

    The Art of Scientific Presentations

     

    syllabus | website

    GEOG8280

    The Impact of Decadal Climate Variability on Terrestrial Ecosystems

     

    syllabus

    GEOG8280

    Frontiers in Paleoclimatology

     

    syllabus | website

    GEOG8260

    Hydroclimatic extremes

     

    syllabus | website

  • Media projects

    When science is communicated to the broader public, many of its key findings are shared in the form of dense prose, conceptual diagrams or information-dense data graphics. Although those tools can be effective, they do not always offer the best way to reach every audience.

    Based on surface temperature analysis from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the composition 'Planetary Bands, Warming World' uses music to create a visceral encounter with more than a century’s worth of weather data collected across the northern half of the planet.

    With support from the University of Minnesota’s School of Music and its Institute on the Environment, in 2012 I began a collaborative project using music to communicate critical concepts in climate science. The first product from this collaboration was a piece written by an undergraduate student in Geography that expressed NASA’s global temperature record as a musical composition for the cello. The result, which was titled ‘A Song of Our Warming Planet’, transformed 133 years of annual global temperature anomalies into a haunting, atonal melody that stretched across almost all of the instrument’s range. Since its release in June 2013, ‘A Song of Our Warming Planet’ has been featured by several national and international media outlets, including the New York Times, the Weather Channel, and National Public Radio, and its accompanying video has received more than 140,000 views from nearly every corner of the world. Because the composition was released under a Creative Commons license, it has been performed (and in some cases, reinterpreted) by local and international artists, including musicians from Wisconsin, California, New York, Canada, and the Netherlands.

    The ability to deliver effective and engaging oral presentations is a critical skill for scholars in all disciplines. Unfortunately, despite the importance of clear communication, professional presentations about research are too often confusing, abstract and boring. In this video, I outlines five small changes you can make to become a more effective communicator.

  • Contact information

    Twitter is fastest, email is most precise, and phone is a long shot.

    Not teaching this semester, so please email or tweet at me.

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