Numerous large boulders at the base of Wishbone Hill, northeast of Anchorage, Alaska, suggest a historic rockfall event and potential for future surface instability, putting lives and property at risk. The source of the rockfall-boulders is an exposed syncline with a cliff face composed of conglomerate. The age of trees growing atop boulders provides a minimum exposure-age of those boulders and, thus, the rockfall event. To determine when the rockfall occurred, we dated trees growing atop the boulders using tree-ring samples collected from 30 Alaska paper birch trees. After mounting and polishing, each tree-ring sample was dot-counted, and tree-ring widths were measured using Measure J2X software to generate a master chronology (1938-2017). To estimate the youngest age for the rockfall event, we recorded pith-year for each sample. For samples lacking a pith (n=21), we used pith indicators to match existing rings to diagrams of corresponding ring widths, projecting approximate pith for each sample. All samples we corrected for sampling height (mean=0.8m) using a low estimate growth rate (0.6m/yr). The oldest birch tree sampled included pith and, with height correction, we estimate a germination year of 1936. When using first-year growth as an event’s temporal marker, accounting for the ecesis interval, the time between the availability of a new surface (i.e., boulders) and germination provides a more representative date of the event than using the pith/germination date alone. Considering birch ecesis and primary observations recorded in 1935, we propose that the rockfall event most likely occurred in 1934-1935. This finding suggests an ecesis interval as low as one year for Alaska paper birch in fresh rockfall areas. The risk of another destabilizing event may prompt those utilizing this area for recreational and residential purposes to reconsider future use.

Whitney et al Compass Table v91 no1.xlsx (12 kB)
Table 1. Birch Tree Sample Data