Pre-Columbian America was plagued by decades-long megadroughts

Pre-Columbian America was plagued by decades-long megadroughts

In the August issue of Physics Today, climate scientists Toby Ault and Scott St. George share a pair of startling research findings. Between roughly 800 and 1500 CE, the American West suffered a succession of decades-long droughts, much longer than anything we’ve endured in modern history. And statistical models suggest that, as the climate warms, such megadroughts are increasingly likely to return.

The western US was plagued by multiple decades-long droughts, data from tree rings reveal. Credit: Greg Stasiewicz. Data from the North American Drought Atlas.

How can scientists be so sure about the duration and extent of droughts that happened long before the era of instrument-based precipitation records? As Ault and St. George explain, the annual growth rings of ancient trees contain a rich paleoclimatic record of precipitation and soil moisture patterns. The width of a tree ring gives clues as to how well nourished the tree was in a given year. The map shows four western US megadroughts predicted from tree-ring data.

Ring-width analyses provide the most complete set of data on past moisture levels. But researchers have other ways of determining those conditions. Here are four of them:

  • Underwater tree stumps
  • Archaeological artifacts
  • Sand-dune cores
  • Pollen-grain deposits

Full story here

 

via Watts Up With That?

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August 9, 2018 at 07:12PM

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