Scott St. George
Environmental volatility | Paleoclimate | Natural hazards
I am an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies of Geography, Environment and Society, and Institute on the Environment Fellow at the University of Minnesota. I'm also a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Germany), an Adjunct Professor in the School of Environmental Studies at Queen’s University (Canada), and an International Member of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grants Panel "1506 Geosciences".
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.
The limits of freely-available tree-ring chronologies
Bethany Coulthard, Scott St. George. David Meko
Does signal-free detrending increase coherence across spatial scales within large tree-ring networks?
Mara McPartland, Scott St. George, Greg Pederson
Increased drought intensity tracks warming in the United States’ largest river basin
Justin Martin, Greg Pederson, Connie Woodhouse, Ed Cook, Greg McCabe, Erica Wise and twelve others.
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 (in press)
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 (in press)
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]
The aberrant synchrony of current warming
Scott St. George, Nature 471, 483-484, 2019 [DOI] [Nature Podcast] [Science] [Smithsonian Magazine] [USA Today] [Los Angeles Times] [People] [NBC News] [Gizmodo] [Cosmos] [Business Insider] [Scientific American] [Deutschlandfunk] [de Volkskrant] [El Pais] [Fox News] [Investigatión y Ciencia] [Carbon Brief] [David Suzuki Foundation] [Spektrum der Wissenschaft]
Warfare dendrochronology: Trees witness the deployment of the German battleship Tirpitz in Norway
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]
Large-scale, millennial-length temperature reconstructions from tree rings
Jan Esper, Scott St. George, Kevin Anchukaitis, Roseanne D'Arrigo, Fredrik Ljungqvist, Jurg Luterbacher, Lea Schneider, Markus Stoffel, Rob Wilson, Ulf Büntgen, Dendrochronologia 50, 81-90, 2018 [DOI]
Current and FORMER GROUP MEMBERS
I advise students enrolled in the M.A. and Ph.D. programs in Geography and am able to serve on graduate committees for students completing other degree programs at Minnesota. My students have won major university- and college-level awards, and alumni members of my group are employed by state and federal agencies and major non-profits or are pursuing doctoral degrees at other leading institutions.
Ph.D. in Geography (in progress)
Dissertation title: Developing a paleoclimate framework for multi-decadal estimation of spring timing
M.A. in Geography (in progress)
Thesis title: Holocene paleofloods in the United States and their relevance to flood mitigation, hazard assessment and policy
M.A. in Geography (in progress)
Thesis topic: Paleohydrological assessment of extreme flooding events
Dr. Farid Seyfullayev
Fulbright Visiting Scholar, 2018
Award title: Studying climate change and reconstruction of past climate, floods and extreme events using dendrochronological methods in Azerbaijan
B.Sc. in Mathematics, 2018
Undergraduate research project: Quantifying long-term trends in the Red River of the North
Current position: Data Engineer, Target
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
M.A. in Geography, 2015
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
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
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
M.A. in Geography, 2013
Thesis title: Assessing the response of upper montane forests to decadal variability in winter precipitation
Current position: Postdoctoral Researcher, The Ohio State University
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
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.
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.
Large-scale dendrochronology and low-frequency climate variability
As the leading source of high-resolution paleoclimate information in the middle- and high-latitudes, tree rings are essential to understand low-frequency variability prior to the instrumental period. In this lecture, I described the structure and characteristics of the Northern Hemisphere tree-ring width network, and outlined how the fingerprint of decadal and multidecadal climate variability encoded within ancient trees varies across the hemisphere.
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.
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.
Biogeography of the Global Garden
The Impact of Decadal Climate Variability on Terrestrial Ecosystems
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.