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The improbable but unexceptional occurrence of megadrought clustering in the American West during the Medieval Climate Anomaly

Coats, Sloan John; Smerdon, Jason E.; Karnauskas, Kristopher B.; Seager, Richard

The five most severe and persistent droughts in the American West (AW) during the Common Era occurred during a 450 year period known as the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA—850–1299 C.E.). Herein we use timeseries modeling to estimate the probability of such a period of hydroclimate change occurring. Clustering of severe and persistent drought during an MCA-length period occurs in approximately 10% of surrogate timeseries that were constructed to have the same characteristics as a tree-ring derived estimate of AW hydroclimate variability between 850 and 2005 C.E. Periods of hydroclimate change like the MCA are thus expected to occur in the AW, although not frequently, with a recurrence interval of approximately 11 000 years. Importantly, a shift in mean hydroclimate conditions during the MCA is found to be necessary for drought to reach the severity and persistence of the actual MCA megadroughts. This result has consequences for our understanding of the atmosphere-ocean dynamics underlying the MCA and a persistently warm Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation is suggested to have played an important role in causing megadrought clustering during this period.

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Also Published In

Title
Environmental Research Letters
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/11/7/074025

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Publisher
IOP Publishing
Published Here
November 30, 2016
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