North Atlantic influence on 19th–20th century rainfall in the Dead Sea watershed, teleconnections with the Sahel, and implication for Holocene climate fluctuations

Kushnir, Yochanan; Stein, Mordechai

The importance of understanding processes that govern the hydroclimate of the Mediterranean Basin is highlighted by the projected significant drying of the region in response to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. Here we study the long-term hydroclimatic variability of the central Levant region, situated in the eastern boundary of the Basin, as reveled by instrumental observations and the Holocene record of Dead Sea level variations. Observations of 19th and 20th century precipitation in the Dead Sea watershed region display a multidecadal, anti-phase relationship to North Atlantic (NAtl) sea surface temperature (SST) variability, such that when the NAtl is relatively cold, Jerusalem experiences higher than normal precipitation and vice versa. This association is underlined by a negative correlation to precipitation in the sub-Saharan Sahel and a positive correlation to precipitation in western North America, areas that are also affected by multidecadal NAtl SST variability. These observations are consistent with a broad range of Holocene hydroclimatic fluctuations from the epochal, to the millennial and centennial time scales, as displayed by the Dead Sea lake level, by lake levels in the Sahel, and by direct and indirect proxy indicators of NAtl SSTs. On the epochal time scale, the gradual cooling of NAtl SSTs throughout the Holocene in response to precession-driven reduction of summer insolation is associated with previously well-studied wet-to-dry transition in the Sahel and with a general increase in Dead Sea lake levels from low stands after the Younger Dryas to higher stands in the mid- to late-Holocene. On the millennial and centennial time scales there is also evidence for an anti-phase relationship between Holocene variations in the Dead Sea and Sahelian lake levels and with proxy indicators of NAtl SSTs. However the records are punctuated by abrupt lake-level drops, which appear to be in-phase and which occur during previously documented abrupt major cooling events in the Northern Hemisphere. We propose that the mechanisms by which NAtl SSTs affect precipitation in the central Levant is related to the tendency for high (low) pressure anomalies to persist over the eastern North Atlantic/Western Mediterranean region when the Basin is cold (warm). This, in turn, affects the likelihood of cold air outbreaks and cyclogenesis in the Eastern Mediterranean and, consequently, rainfall in the central Levant region. Depending on its phase, this natural mechanism can alleviate or exacerbate the anthropogenic impact on the regions' hydroclimatic future.



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Also Published In

Quaternary Science Reviews

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
Published Here
October 22, 2012