North American Pancontinental Droughts in Model Simulations of the Last Millennium

Coats, Sloan John; Cook, Benjamin I.; Smerdon, Jason E.; Seager, Richard

Pancontinental droughts in North America, or droughts that simultaneously affect a large percentage of the geographically and climatically distinct regions of the continent, present significant on-the-ground management challenges and, as such, are an important target for scientific research. The methodology of paleoclimate-model data comparisons is used herein to provide a more comprehensive understanding of pancontinental drought dynamics. Models are found to simulate pancontinental drought with the frequency and spatial patterns exhibited by the paleoclimate record. They do not, however, agree on the modes of atmosphere–ocean variability that produce pancontinental droughts because simulated El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO), and Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (AMO) dynamics, and their teleconnections to North America, are different between models and observations. Despite these dynamical differences, models are able to reproduce large-magnitude centennial-scale variability in the frequency of pancontinental drought occurrence—an important feature of the paleoclimate record. These changes do not appear to be tied to exogenous forcing, suggesting that simulated internal hydroclimate variability on these time scales is large in magnitude. Results clarify our understanding of the dynamics that produce real-world pancontinental droughts while assessing the ability of models to accurately characterize future drought risks.

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Also Published In

Journal of Climate

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Ocean and Climate Physics
Biology and Paleo Environment
American Meteorological Society
Published Here
October 6, 2015