Climate Change and...

Annotated Bibliography

Effects of Climate Change

Drought

Bréda, N., Huc, R., Granier, A., Dreyer, E. (2006). Temperate forest trees and stands under severe drought: a review of ecophysiological responses, adaptation processes and long-term consequences. Annals of Forest Science 63 (6): 625-644

ABSTRACT: The extreme drought event that occurred in Western Europe during 2003 highlighted the need to understand the key processes that may allow trees and stands to overcome such severe water shortages. We therefore reviewed the current knowledge available about such processes. First, impact of drought on exchanges at soil-root and canopy-atmosphere interfaces are presented and illustrated with examples from water and CO2 flux measurements. The decline in transpiration and water uptake and in net carbon assimilation due to stomatal closure has been quantified and modelled. The resulting models were used to compute water balance at stand level basing on the 2003 climate in nine European forest sites from the CARBOEUROPE network. Estimates of soil water deficit were produced and provided a quantitative index of soil water shortage and therefore of the intensity of drought stress experienced by trees during summer 2003. In a second section, we review the irreversible damage that could be imposed on water transfer within trees and particularly within xylem. A special attention was paid to the inter-specific variability of these properties among a wide range of tree species. The inter-specific diversity of hydraulic and stomatal responses to soil water deficit is also discussed as it might reflect a large diversity in traits potentially related to drought tolerance. Finally, tree decline and mortality due to recurrent or extreme drought events are discussed on the basis of a literature review and recent decline studies. The potential involvement of hydraulic dysfunctions or of deficits in carbon storage as causes for the observed long term (several years) decline of tree growth and development and for the onset of tree dieback is discussed. As an example, the starch content in stem tissues recorded at the end of the 2003's summer was used to predict crown conditions of oak trees during the following spring: low starch contents were correlated with large twig and branch decline in the crown of trees.

P. A. Knapp, P. T. Soulé, H. D. Grissino-Mayer (2004). Occurrence of sustained droughts in the Interior Pacific Northwest (A.D. 1733–1980) inferred from tree-ring data. Journal of Climate 17 (1): 140-150

ABSTRACT: The occurrence of moderate and severe sustained droughts in the interior Pacific Northwest (PNW) from 1733 to 1980 was mapped using 18 western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis var. occidentalis Hook.) tree-ring chronologies. The frequency and duration of both moderate and severe sustained droughts are substantially greater in the northwest region of the interior PNW. Thus, this area is identified as a drought core region. These droughts are chiefly attributed to the presence of a Pacific blocking high off the NW coast that is associated with significant reductions in cool season precipitation. Specifically, the impacted northwest region lies within a transition zone between the fluxes of marine airflow during the cool season months and interior air during the warm season months. The waxing and waning of the boundaries of this transition zone particularly affect western juniper trees growing in this region. During years in which a blocking high is present, marine airflow is substantially reduced, exposing the trees in the transition zone to substantially drier springtime conditions that limit soil moisture and reduce radial growth. Although the most severe and persistent droughts were concentrated in the northwest region, four large-scale droughts also impacted the entire interior PNW during the study period. These droughts occurred principally during PDO warm phases, suggesting a regional-scale linkage to this climatic oscillation.

Dai, A., I.Y. Fung, A.D. DelGenio (1997). Surface observed global land precipitation variations during 1900-1988. Journal of Climate 10 (11): 2943-2962

ABSTRACT: The authors have analyzed global station data and created a gridded dataset of monthly precipitation for the 1900-1988 period. Statistical analyses suggest that discontinuities associated with instrumental errors are large for many high-latitude station records although they are unlikely to be significant for the majority of the stations. The first leading EOF in global precipitation fields is an ENSO-related pattern concentrating mostly in the low latitudes. The second leading EOF depicts a linear increasing trend (~2.4 mm/decade) in global precipitation fields during the 1900-1988 period. Consistent with the zonal precipitation trends identified in previous analyses, the EOF trend is seen as a long-term increase mostly in North America, mid- to high-latitude Eurasia, Argentina and Australia. The spatial patterns of the trend EOF and the rate of increase are generally consistent with those of the precipitation changes in increasing CO2 GCM experiments.

The North Atlantic Oscillation accounts for ~10% of December-February precipitation variance over North Atlantic surrounding regions. The mode suggests that during high-NAO-index winters, precipitation is above normal in northern (>50°N) Europe, the eastern United States, northern Africa and the Mediterranean; while below-normal precipitation occurs in southern Europe, eastern Canada and western Greenland.

Wet and dry months of one standard deviation occur at probabilities close to those of a normal distribution in midlatitudes. In the subtropics, the mean interval between two extreme events is longer. The monthly wet and dry events seldom (probability <5%) last longer than 2 months. ENSO is the single largest cause for global extreme precipitation events. Consistent with the upward trend in global precipitation, globally, the averaged mean interval between two dry months increased by ~28% from 1900-1944 to 1945-1988. The percentage of wet areas over the U.S. has more than doubled (from ~12% to >24%) since the 1970s while the percentage of dry areas has decreased by a similar amount since the 1940s. Severe droughts and floods comparable to the midwest U.S. 1988 drought and 1993 flood have occurred 2-9 times in each of several other regions of the world during this century.

Benson, L., B. Linsley, J. Smoot, S. Mensing, S. Lund, S. Stine, A. Sarna-Wojcicki (2003). Influence of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation on the climate of the Sierra Nevada, California and Nevada. Quaternary Research 59 (2): 151-159

ABSTRACT: Mono Lake sediments have recorded five major oscillations in the hydrologic balance between A.D. 1700 and 1941. These oscillations can be correlated with tree-ring-based oscillations in Sierra Nevada snowpack. Comparison of a tree-ring-based reconstruction of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) index [5] with a coral-based reconstruction of Subtropical South Pacific sea-surface temperature [18] indicates a high degree of correlation between the two records during the past 300 yr. This suggests that the PDO has been a pan-Pacific phenomena for at least the past few hundred years. Major oscillations in the hydrologic balance of the Sierra Nevada correspond to changes in the sign of the PDO with extreme droughts occurring during PDO maxima. Four droughts centered on A.D. 1710, 1770, 1850, and 1930 indicate PDO-related drought reoccurrence intervals ranging from 60 to 80 yr.

G. J. McCabe, M. A. Palecki, J. L. Betancourt (2004). Pacific and Atlantic Ocean influences on multidecadal drought frequency in the United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101 (12): 4136-4141

ABSTRACT: More than half (52%) of the spatial and temporal variance in multidecadal drought frequency over the conterminous United States is attributable to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). An additional 22% of the variance in drought frequency is related to a complex spatial pattern of positive and negative trends in drought occurrence possibly related to increasing Northern Hemisphere temperatures or some other unidirectional climate trend. Recent droughts with broad impacts over the conterminous U.S. (1996, 1999–2002) were associated with North Atlantic warming (positive AMO) and northeastern and tropical Pacific cooling (negative PDO). Much of the long-term predictability of drought frequency may reside in the multidecadal behavior of the North Atlantic Ocean. Should the current positive AMO (warm North Atlantic) conditions persist into the upcoming decade, we suggest two possible drought scenarios that resemble the continental-scale patterns of the 1930s (positive PDO) and 1950s (negative PDO) drought.

Nigam, S., M. Barlow, E. H. Berbery (1999). Analysis links Pacific Decadal variability to drought and streamflow in United States. EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union 80 (61): 8 pp.

ABSTRACT: The two leading patterns of Pacific decadal sea surface temperature (SST) variability are strongly linked to large-scale patterns of warm-season drought and streamflow in the United States, recent analysis shows. The predictive potential of this link may contribute to the development of warm-season hydroclimate forecasts in the United States. Understanding of low-frequency variations in drought and streamflow would be important for both agriculture and water resources management.

The two leading patterns are what we call the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and the North Pacific mode. Their link with drought and streamflow patterns was notably expressed in the 1960s when severe drought in the northeast (the 1962-66 "Northeastern" drought) and exceptional positive SST anomalies in the North Pacific Ocean (Figures 1a, 1b) both occurred. Analysis of upper tropospheric circulation anomalies showed the North Pacific to be a source region of wave activity affecting the drought area in these summers. The anomalous circulation was vertically coherent and opposed the climatological low-level moisture inflow over the eastern United States associated with the western extension of the Bermuda High.

Hidalgo, H. G. (2004). Climate precursors of multidecadal drought variability in the western United States. Water Resources Research 40 (12): W12504

ABSTRACT: Low-frequency (periodicities lower than 20 years) hydrologic variability in the western United States over the past 500 years is studied using available tree-ring reconstructions of Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), streamflow, and climate indices. Leading rotated principal component (RPC) scores of a gridded tree-ring reconstruction of the PDSI from 1525 to 1975 are significantly correlated with indices representing large-scale climate variations from the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. RPC1 (31%) is related to the influence of North Pacific sea surface temperature (SST) variations, indexed by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). RPC2 (24%) is apparently related to North Atlantic SST variations, indexed by the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). RPC3 (19%) is moderately correlated with a smoothed version of the Southern Oscillation Index. Consistent with recent studies of instrumental data, RPC1 (PDO) and RPC2 (AMO) explain a large part of the multidecadal hydrologic variability of the interior western United States. Western U.S. PDSI variability exhibits significant pentadecadal (and longer) oscillations in the epochs from circa 1525 to 1650 and 1850 to 1975, while bidecadal oscillations are prevalent in the middle epoch from circa 1650 to 1850. The changes in spectral characteristics of western U.S. PDSI were related to similar changes in the PDO (and therefore in RPC1). In contrast, RPC2 had a regular periodicity of 51 years for the past ~500 years. This regularity is intriguing, and although RPC2 was primarily related to the AMO in this study, the influence from Pacific climate cannot be discarded.

Hessl, A. E., D. McKenzie, R. Schellhaas (2004). Drought and Pacific Decadal Oscillation linked to fire occurrence in the inland Pacific Northwest. Ecological Applications 14 (2): 425-442

ABSTRACT: Historical variability of fire regimes must be understood within the context of climatic and human drivers of disturbance occurring at multiple temporal scales. We describe the relationship between fire occurrence and interannual to decadal climatic variability (Palmer Drought Severity Index [PDSI], El Nino/Southern Oscillation [ENSO], and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation [PDO]) and explain how land use changes in the 20th century affected these relationships.

We used 1701 fire-scarred trees collected in five study sites in central and eastern Washington State (USA) to investigate current year, lagged, and low frequency relationships between composite fire histories and PDSI, PDO, and ENSO (using the Southern Oscillation Index [SOI] as a measure of ENSO variability) using superposed epoch analysis and cross-spectral analysis. Fires tended to occur during dry summers and during the positive phase of the PDO. Cross-spectral analysis indicates that percentage of trees scarred by fire and the PDO are spectrally coherent at 47 years, the approximate cycle of the PDO. Similarly, percentage scarred and ENSO are spectrally coherent at six years, the approximate cycle of ENSO. However, other results suggest that ENSO was only a weak driver of fire occurrence in the past three centuries.

While drought and fire appear to be tightly linked between 1700 and 1900, the relationship between drought and fire occurrence was disrupted during the 20th century as a result of land use changes. We suggest that long-term fire planning using the PDO may be possible in the Pacific Northwest, potentially allowing decadal-scale management of fire regimes, prescribed fire, and vegetation dynamics.

Balling, R.C., Jr., G. B. Goodrich (2007). Analysis of drought determinants for the Colorado River Basin. Climate Change 82 (1-2): 179-194

ABSTRACT: Ongoing drought in the Colorado River Basin, unprecedented urban growth in the watershed, and numerical model simulations showing higher temperatures and lower precipitation totals in the future have all combined to heighten interest in drought in this region. In this investigation, we use principal components analysis (PCA) to independently assess the influence of various teleconnections on Basin-wide and sub-regional winter season Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI) and precipitation variations in the Basin. We find that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) explains more variance in PHDI than El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), and the planetary temperature combined for the Basin as a whole. When rotated PCA is used to separate the Basin into two regions, the lower portion of the Basin is similar to the Basin as a whole while the upper portion, which contains the high-elevation locations important to hydrologic yield for the watershed, demonstrates poorly defined relationships with the teleconnections. The PHDI for the two portions of the Basin are shown to have been out of synch for much of the twentieth century. In general, teleconnection indices account for 19% of the variance in PHDI leaving large uncertainties in drought forecasting.

D. M. Liverman, K. L. O'Brien (1991). Global warming and climate change in Mexico. Global Environmental Change 1 (5): 351-364

ABSTRACT: Climate models suggest that global warming could bring warmer, drier conditions to Mexico. Although precipitation increases are projected by some models, in most cases they do not compensate for increases in potential evaporation. Thus, soil moisture and water availability may decrease over much of Mexico with serious consequences for rainfed and irrigated agriculture, urban and industrial water supplies, hydropower and ecosystems. However, the assessment of global warming impacts in Mexico is an uncertain task because the projections of different models vary widely, particularly for precipitation, and because they perform poorly in reproducing the observed climate of Mexico.

K. M. Andreadis, D. P. Lettenmaier (2006). Trends in 20th century drought over the continental United States. Geophysical Research Letters 33 (L10403): doi:10.1029/2006GL025711

ABSTRACT: We used a simulated data set of hydro-climatological variables to examine for 20th century trends in soil moisture, runoff, and drought characteristics over the conterminous United States (U.S.). An increasing trend is apparent in both model soil moisture and runoff over much of the U.S., with a few decreasing trends in parts of the Southwest. The trend patterns were qualitatively similar to those found in streamflow records observed at a station network minimally affected by anthropogenic activities. This wetting trend is consistent with the general increase in precipitation in the latter half of the 20th century. Droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the country over the last century. The main exception is the Southwest and parts of the interior of the West, where, notwithstanding increased precipitation (and in some cases increased soil moisture and runoff), increased temperature has led to trends in drought characteristics that are mostly opposite to those for the rest of the country especially in the case of drought duration and severity, which have increased.

S.T. Gray, S.T. Jackson, J. L. Betancourt (2004). Tree-ring based reconstructions of interannual to decadal scale precipitation variability for northeastern Utah since 1226 A.D.. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 40 (4): 947-960

ABSTRACT: Samples from 107 piñon pines (Pinus edulis ) at four sites were used to develop a proxy record of annual (June to June) precipitation spanning the 1226 to 2001 AD interval for the Uinta Basin Watershed of northeastern Utah. The reconstruction reveals significant precipitation variability at interannual to decadal scales. Single-year dry events before the instrumental period tended to be more severe than those after 1900. In general, decadal scale dry events were longer and more severe prior to 1900. In particular, dry events in the late 13th, 16th, and 18th Centuries surpass the magnitude and duration of droughts seen in the Uinta Basin after 1900. The last four decades of the 20th Century also represent one of the wettest periods in the reconstruction. The proxy record indicates that the instrumental record (approximately 1900 to the Present) underestimates the potential frequency and severity of severe, sustained droughts in this area, while over representing the prominence of wet episodes. In the longer record, the empirical probability of any decadal scale drought exceeding the duration of the 1954 through 1964 drought is 94 percent, while the probability for any wet event exceeding the duration of the 1965 through 1999 wet spell is only 1 percent. Hence, estimates of future water availability in the Uinta Basin and forecasts for exports to the Colorado River, based on the 1961 to 1990 and 1971 to 2000 “normal” periods, may be overly optimistic.

Graumlich, L.J., M. F. J. Pisaric, L. A. Waggoner, J. S. Littell, J. C. King (2003). Upper Yellowstone River flow and teleconnections with Pacific Basin climate variability during the past three centuries. Climate Change 59 (1-2): 245-262

ABSTRACT: Climate variability, coupled with increasing demand is raising concerns about the sustainability of water resources in the western United States. Tree-ring reconstructions of stream flow that extend the observational record by several centuries provide critical information on the short-term variability and multi-decadal trends in water resources. In this study, precipitation sensitive Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menzeisii ) tree ring records are used to reconstruct annual flow of the Yellowstone River back to A.D. 1706. Linkages between precipitation in the Greater Yellowstone Region and climate variability in the Pacific basin were incorporated into our model by including indices Pacific Ocean interannual and decadal-scale climatic variability, namely the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Southern Oscillation. The reconstruction indicates that 20th century streamflow is not representative of flow during the previous two centuries. With the exception of the 1930s, streamflow during the 20th century exceeded average flows during the previous 200 years. The drought of the 1930s resulted in the lowest flows during the last three centuries, however, this probably does not represent a worst-case scenario for the Yellowstone as other climate reconstructions indicate more extreme droughts prior to the 18th century.

Gray, S.T., J. L. Betancourt, C. L. Fastie, S.T. Jackson (2003). Patterns and sources of multidecadal oscillations in drought-sensitive tree-ring records from the central and southern Rocky Mountains. Geophysical Research Letters 30 (6): 1316, doi:10.1029/2002GL016154

ABSTRACT: Tree-ring records spanning the past seven centuries from the central and southern Rocky Mountains were studied using wavelet analysis to examine multidecadal (>30–70 yr) patterns of drought variation. Fifteen tree-ring series were grouped into five regional composite chronologies based on shared low-frequency behavior. Strong multidecadal phasing of moisture variation was present in all regions during the late 16th century megadrought. Oscillatory modes in the 30–70 yr domain persisted until the mid-19th century in two regions, and wet-dry cycles were apparently synchronous at some sites until the 1950s drought. The 16th/17th century pattern of severe multidecadal drought followed by decades of wet conditions resembles the 1950s drought and post-1976 wet period. The 16th century megadrought, which may have resulted from coupling of a decadal (~20–30 yr) Pacific cool phase with a multidecadal warm phase in the North Atlantic, marked a substantial reorganization of climate in the Rocky Mountain region.

Gedalof, Z., D.L. Peterson, N.J. Mantua (2004). Columbia River flow and drought since 1750. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 40 (6): 1579-1592

ABSTRACT: A network of 32 drought sensitive tree-ring chronologies is used to reconstruct mean water year flow on the Columbia River at The Dalles, Oregon, since 1750. The reconstruction explains 30 percent of the variability in mean water year (October to September) flow, with a large portion of unexplained variance caused by underestimates of the most severe low flow events. Residual statistics from the tree-ring reconstruction, as well as an identically specified instrumental reconstruction, exhibit positive trends over time. This finding suggests that the relationship between drought and streamflow has changed over time, supporting results from hydrologic models, which suggest that changes in land cover over the 20th Century have had measurable impacts on runoff production. Low pass filtering the flow record suggests that persistent low flows during the 1840s were probably the most severe of the past 250 years, but that flows during the 1930s were nearly as extreme. The period from 1950 to 1987 is anomalous in the context of this record for having no notable multiyear drought events. A comparison of the flow reconstruction to paleorecords of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) support a strong 20th Century link between large scale circulation and streamflow, but suggests that this link is very weak prior to 1900.

Knapp, P. A., H. D. Grissino-Mayer, P. T. Soulé (2002). Climatic regionalization and the spatio-temporal occurrence of extreme single-year drought events (1500–1998) in the interior Pacific Northwest, USA. Quaternary Research 58 (3): 226-233

ABSTRACT: Tree-ring records from western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis var.occidentalis Hook.) growing throughout the interior Pacific Northwest identify extreme climatic pointer years (CPYs) (i.e., severe single-year droughts) from 1500–1998. Widespread and extreme CPYs were concentrated in the 16th and early part of the 17th centuries and did not occur again until the early 20th century. The 217-yr absence of extreme CPYs may have occurred during an extended period of low variance in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. We mapped climatic boundaries for the interior Pacific Northwest based on the location of sites with similar precipitation variability indices. Three regions, the Northwest (based on chronologies from nine sites), the Southwest (four sites), and the East (five sites) were identified. Our results suggest that western juniper radial growth indices have substantial interannual variability within the northwestern range of the species (central Oregon), particularly when compared with western juniper growing in its eastern range (eastern Oregon, southeastern Idaho, and northern Nevada) and southwestern range (southern Oregon and northeast California). We suspect that the substantial differences in the variability of western juniper radial growth indices are linked to the influence of ENSO events on winter/spring precipitation amounts.

Meko, D., C. A. Woodhouse, C. A. Baisan, T. Knight, J. J. Lukas, M.K. Hughes, M. W. Salzer (2007). Medieval drought in the upper Colorado River Basin. Geophysical Research Letters 34: L10705

ABSTRACT: New tree-ring records of ring-width from remnant preserved wood are analyzed to extend the record of reconstructed annual flows of the Colorado River at Lee Ferry into the Medieval Climate Anomaly, when epic droughts are hypothesized from other paleoclimatic evidence to have affected various parts of western North America. The most extreme low-frequency feature of the new reconstruction, covering A.D. 762-2005, is a hydrologic drought in the mid-1100s. The drought is characterized by a decrease of more than 15% in mean annual flow averaged over 25 years, and by the absence of high annual flows over a longer period of about six decades. The drought is consistent in timing with dry conditions inferred from tree-ring data in the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau, but regional differences in intensity emphasize the importance of basin-specific paleoclimatic data in quantifying likely effects of drought on water supply.

Stine, S. (1994). Extreme and persistent drought in California and Patagonia during medieval time. Nature 369: 546-549

ABSTRACT: Studies from sites around the world1–5 have provided evidence for anomalous climate conditions persisting for several hundred years before about AD 1300. Early workers emphasized the temperature increase that marked this period in the British Isles, coining the terms 'Mediaeval Warm Epoch' and 'Little Climatic Optimum', but many sites seem to have experienced equally important hydrological changes. Here I present a study of relict tree stumps rooted in present-day lakes, marshes and streams, which suggests that California's Sierra Nevada experienced extremely severe drought conditions for more than two centuries before AD 1112 and for more than 140 years before AD 1350. During these periods, runoff from the Sierra was significantly lower than during any of the persistent droughts that have occurred in the region over the past 140 years. I also present similar evidence from Patagonia of drought conditions coinciding with at least the first of these dry periods in California. I suggest that the droughts may have been caused by reorientation of the mid-latitude storm tracks, owing to a general contraction of the circumpolar vortices and/or a change in the position of the vortex waves. If this reorientation was caused by mediaeval warming, future natural or anthropogenically induced warming may cause a recurrence of the extreme drought conditions.

Woodhouse, C. A., J.Y. Overpeck (1998). 2000 years of drought variability in the central United States. Journal of the American Meteorological Society 79 (12): 2693-2714

ABSTRACT: Droughts are one of the most devastating natural hazards faced by the United States today. Severe droughts of the twentieth century have had large impacts on economies, society, and the environment, especially in the Great Plains. However, the instrumental record of the last 100 years contains only a limited subset of drought realizations. One must turn to the paleoclimatic record to examine the full range of past drought variability, including the range of magnitude and duration, and thus gain the improved understanding needed for society to anticipate and plan for droughts of the future. Historical documents, tree rings, archaeological remains, lake sediment, and geomorphic data make it clear that the droughts of the twentieth century, including those of the 1930s and 1950s, were eclipsed several times by droughts earlier in the last 2000 years, and as recently as the late sixteenth century. In general, some droughts prior to 1600 appear to be characterized by longer duration (i.e., multidecadal) and greater spatial extent than those of the twentieth century. The authors’ assessment of the full range of past natural drought variability, deduced from a comprehensive review of the paleoclimatic literature, suggests that droughts more severe than those of the 1930s and 1950s are likely to occur in the future, a likelihood that might be exacerbated by greenhouse warming in the next century. Persistence conditions that lead to decadal-scale drought may be related to low-frequency variations, or base-state shifts, in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, although more research is needed to understand the mechanisms of severe drought.

Cook, E.R., Meko, D.M., Stahle, D.W., Cleaveland, M.K. (1999). Drought reconstructions for the continental United States. Journal of Climate 12 (4): 1145-1162

ABSTRACT: The development of a 2° lat × 3° long grid of summer drought reconstructions for the continental United States estimated from a dense network of annual tree-ring chronologies is described. The drought metric used is the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). The number of grid points is 154 and the reconstructions cover the common period 1700–1978. In producing this grid, an automated gridpoint regression method called “point-by-point regression” was developed and tested. In so doing, a near-optimal global solution was found for its implementation. The reconstructions have been thoroughly tested for validity using PDSI data not used in regression modeling. In general, most of the gridpoint estimates of drought pass the verification tests used. In addition, the spatial features of drought in the United States have been faithfully recorded in the reconstructions even though the method of reconstruction is not explicitly spatial in its design.

The drought reconstructions show that the 1930s “Dust Bowl” drought was the most severe such event to strike the United States since 1700. Other more local droughts are also revealed in the regional patterns of drought obtained by rotated principal component analysis. These reconstructions are located on a NOAA Web site at the World Data Center-A in Boulder, Colorado, and can be freely downloaded from there.

Benson, L.B., M. Kashgarian, R. Rye, S. Lund, F. Paillet, J. Smoot, C. Kester, S. Mensing, D. Meko, S. Lindström (2002). Holocene multidecadal and multicentennial droughts affecting northern California and Nevada. Quaternary Science Reviews 21 (4-6): 659-682

ABSTRACT: Continuous, high-resolutiond18 O records from cored sediments of Pyramid Lake, Nevada, indicate that oscillations in the hydrologic balance occurred, on average, about every 150 years (yr) during the past 7630 calendar years (cal yr). The records are not stationary; during the past 2740 yr, drought durations ranged from 20 to 100 yr and intervals between droughts ranged from 80 to 230 yr. Comparison of tree-ring-based reconstructions of climate change for the past 1200 yr from the Sierra Nevada and the El Malpais region of northwest New Mexico indicates that severe droughts associated with Anasazi withdrawal from Chaco Canyon at 820 cal yr BP (calendar years before present) and final abandonment of Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, and the Kayenta area at 650 cal yr BP may have impacted much of the western United States. During the middle Holocene (informally defined in this paper as extending from 8000 to 3000 cal yr BP), magnetic susceptibility values of sediments deposited in Pyramid Lake's deep basin were much larger than late–Holocene (3000–0 cal yr BP) values, indicating the presence of a shallow lake. In addition, the meand18 O value of CaCO3 precipitated between 6500 and 3430 cal yr BP was 1.6‰ less than the mean value of CaCO3 precipitated after 2740 cal yr BP. Numerical calculations indicate that the shift in thed18 O baseline probably resulted from a transition to a wetter (>30%) and cooler (3–5°C) climate. The existence of a relatively dry and warm middle-Holocene climate in the Truckee River–Pyramid Lake system is generally consistent with archeological, sedimentological, chemical, physical, and biological records from various sites within the Great Basin of the western United States. Two high-resolution Holocene-climate records are now available from the Pyramid and Owens lake basins which suggest that the Holocene was characterized by five climatic intervals. TIC andd18 O records from Owens Lake indicate that the first interval in the early Holocene (11,600–10,000 cal yr BP) was characterized by a drying trend that was interrupted by a brief (200 yr) wet oscillation centered at 10,300 cal yr BP. This was followed by a second early-Holocene interval (10,000–8000 cal yr BP) during which relatively wet conditions prevailed. During the early part of the middle Holocene (8000–6500 cal yr BP), high-amplitude oscillations in TIC in Owens Lake andd18 O in Pyramid Lake indicate the presence of shallow lakes in both basins. During the latter part of the middle Holocene (6500–3800 cal yr BP), drought conditions dominated, Owens Lake desiccated, and Lake Tahoe ceased spilling to the Truckee River, causing Pyramid Lake to decline. At the beginning of the late Holocene (~3000 cal yr BP), Lake Tahoe rose to its sill level and Pyramid Lake increased in volume.

Trenberth, K. E., G. W. Branstator, P. A. Arkin (1988). Origins of the 1988 North American drought. Science 242 (23 December): 1640-1645

ABSTRACT: The 1988 summer drought in the United States was the most extensive in many years. Because the drought developed in different places at different times, not all regional effects can be traced to the same cause. Along the West Coast and in the northwestern United States drought conditions developed during 1987 in association with the 1986 to 1987 El Niño in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Record low rainfalls from April to June 1988 led to rapid development of drought in the North Central United States. Strong anticyclonic conditions and a northward displaced jet stream in the upper atmosphere over North America throughout this period were only part of pronounced and distinctive wavetrain of anomalies in the atmospheric circulation that appeared to emanate from the tropical Pacific. Below average sea surface temperatures along the equator in the Pacific in the northern spring of 1988, combined with warmer than normal water from 10° to 20°N, led to a northward displaced but still active intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) southeast of Hawaii. Results from a steady-state planetary wave atmospheric model indicate that the atmospheric heating anomalies associated with the displaced ITCZ can force an anomalous wavetrain across North America similar to that observed. Land surface processes probably contributed to the severity and persistence of the drought; however, the large-scale atmospheric circulation perturbations associated with natural variations in the coupled atmosphere-ocean system in the tropical Pacific were most likely the primary cause.

C. J. Earle (1993). Asynchronous droughts in California streamflow as reconstructed from tree rings. Quaternary Research 39 (3): 290-299

ABSTRACT: Streamflow since 1560 A.D. for four rivers within the Sacramento River Basin, California, has been reconstructed dendroclimatically. Both the highest and the lowest reconstructed streamflows occurred during the historical period, with high flows from 1854 to 1916 and low flows from 1917 to 1950. Prolonged (decade-scale) excursions from the mean have been the norm throughout the reconstructed period. The periods of high and low streamflow in the Sacramento Basin are generally synchronous with wet and dry periods reconstructed by dendroclimatic studies in the western United States. The record indicates a number of asynchronous droughts or wet years. The strongest contrasts are developed between northern (western Washington and Oregon or the Columbia Basin) and southern (the Sacramento Basin or central California) climate regions. These asynchronous events may be due to variation in the latitude of the subtropical high and in the latitudinal position of winter storms coming off the Pacific. No association was found with El Niño-Southern Oscillation events.

T. W. Swetnam, J. L. Betancourt (1998). Mesoscale disturbance and ecological response to decadal climatic variability in the American southwest. Journal of Climate 11 (12): 3128-3147

ABSTRACT: Ecological responses to climatic variability in the Southwest include regionally synchronized fires, insect outbreaks, and pulses in tree demography (births and deaths). Multicentury, tree-ring reconstructions of drought, disturbance history, and tree demography reveal climatic effects across scales, from annual to decadal, and from local (<102 km2 ) to mesoscale (104 –106 km2 ). Climate–disturbance relations are more variable and complex than previously assumed. During the past three centuries, mesoscale outbreaks of the western spruce budworm (Choristoneura occidentalis) were associated with wet, not dry episodes, contrary to conventional wisdom. Regional fires occur during extreme droughts but, in some ecosystems, antecedent wet conditions play a secondary role by regulating accumulation of fuels. Interdecadal changes in fire–climate associations parallel other evidence for shifts in the frequency or amplitude of the Southern Oscillation (SO) during the past three centuries. High interannual, fire–climate correlations (r = 0.7 to 0.9) during specific decades (i.e., circa 1740–80 and 1830–60) reflect periods of high amplitude in the SO and rapid switching from extreme wet to dry years in the Southwest, thereby entraining fire occurrence across the region. Weak correlations from 1780 to 1830 correspond with a decrease in SO frequency or amplitude inferred from independent tree-ring width, ice core, and coral isotope reconstructions.

Episodic dry and wet episodes have altered age structures and species composition of woodland and conifer forests. The scarcity of old, living conifers established before circa 1600 suggests that the extreme drought of 1575–95 had pervasive effects on tree populations. The most extreme drought of the past 400 years occurred in the mid–twentieth century (1942–57). This drought resulted in broadscale plant dieoffs in shrublands, woodlands, and forests and accelerated shrub invasion of grasslands. Drought conditions were broken by the post-1976 shift to the negative SO phase and wetter cool seasons in the Southwest. The post-1976 period shows up as an unprecedented surge in tree-ring growth within millennia-length chronologies. This unusual episode may have produced a pulse in tree recruitment and improved rangeland conditions (e.g., higher grass production), though additional study is needed to disentangle the interacting roles of land use and climate. The 1950s drought and the post-1976 wet period and their aftermaths offer natural experiments to study long-term ecosystem response to interdecadal climate variability.

F.K. Fye, D.W. Stahle, E.R. Cook (2003). Paleoclimate analogs to twentieth-century moisture regimes across the United States. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 84 (7): 901-909

ABSTRACT: Instrumental Palmer Drought Severity Indexes (PDSI) averaged over the western United States and Great Plains document three major decadal moisture regimes during the twentieth century: the early twentieth-century pluvial, the Dust Bowl drought, and the 1950s drought. Tree-ring reconstructed PDSI for the contiguous Unites States replicates these three twentieth-century moisture regimes, and have been used to search for possible analogs over the past 500 yr. The early twentieth-century wet regime from 1905 to 1917 appears to have been the wettest episode across the West since A.D.1500, but similar pluvials occurred in the nineteenth, seventeenth, and sixteenth centuries. The Dust Bowl drought (1929–40) was most severe over the northern Plains to the northern Rockies. No close analogs are found for the full severity and geographical focus of the Dust Bowl drought over the past 500 yr. The 1950s drought (1946–56) was concentrated over the Southwest and was replicated by some 12 droughts of similar spatial coverage and duration over the past 500 yr. One of these analogs, the sixteenth-century megadrought, was also focused over the Southwest and appears to have surpassed the Dust Bowl drought in coverage, duration, and severity.

Mensing, S.A., L. V. Benson, M. Kashgarian, S. Lund (2004). A Holocene pollen record of persistent droughts from Pyramid Lake, Nevada, USA. Quaternary Research 62 (1): 29-38

ABSTRACT: Pollen and algae microfossils preserved in sediments from Pyramid Lake, Nevada, provide evidence for periods of persistent drought during the Holocene age. We analyzed one hundred nineteen 1-cm-thick samples for pollen and algae from a set of cores that span the past 7630 years. The early middle Holocene, 7600 to 6300 cal yr B.P., was found to be the driest period, although it included one short but intense wet phase. We suggest that Lake Tahoe was below its rim for most of this period, greatly reducing the volume and depth of Pyramid Lake. Middle Holocene aridity eased between 5000 and 3500 cal yr B.P. and climate became variable with distinct wet and dry phases. Lake Tahoe probably spilled intermittently during this time. No core was recovered that represented the period between 3500 and 2600 cal yr B.P. The past 2500 years appear to have had recurrent persistent droughts. The timing and magnitude of droughts identified in the pollen record compares favorably with previously published18 O data from Pyramid Lake. The timing of these droughts also agrees with the ages of submerged rooted stumps in the Eastern Sierra Nevada and woodrat midden data from central Nevada. Prolonged drought episodes appear to correspond with the timing of ice drift minima (solar maxima) identified from North Atlantic marine sediments, suggesting that changes in solar irradiance may be a possible mechanism influencing century-scale drought in the western Great Basin.

Forman, S.L., Oglesby, R., Webb, R.S. (2001). Temporal and spatial patterns of Holocene dune activity on the Great Plains of North America: megadroughts and climate links. Global and Planetary Change 29: 1-29

ABSTRACT: The Holocene record of eolian sand and loess deposition is reviewed for numerous presently stabilized dune fields on the Great Plains of North America. Dune field activity reflects decade-to-century-scale dominance of drought that exceeded historic conditions, with a growing season deficit of precipitation >25%. The largest dune fields, the Nebraska Sand Hills and ergs in eastern Colorado, Kansas and the Southern High Plains showed peak activity sometime between ca. 7 and 5 cal. ka. Loess deposition between ca. 10 and 4 cal. ka also signifies widespread aridity. Most dune fields exhibit evidence for one or more reactivation events sometime in the past 2 cal. ka; a number of localities register two events post 1 cal. ka, the latest potentially after 1400 AD. However, there is not a clear association of the latest dune remobilization events with up to 13 droughts in the past 2 cal. ka identified in dendroclimatic and lacustrine records. Periods of persistent drought are associated with a La Niña-dominated climate state, with cooling of sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean and later of the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico that significantly weakens cyclogenesis over central North America. As drought proceeds, reduced soil moisture and vegetation cover would lessen evaporative cooling and increase surface temperatures. These surface changes strengthen the eastward expansion of a high-pressure ridge aloft and shift the jet stream northward, further enhancing continent-wide drought. Uncertainty persists if dune fields will reactivate in the future at a scale similar to the Holocene because of widespread irrigation, the lack of migratory bison herds, and the suppression of prairie fires, all of which enhance stabilization of dune fields in the Great Plains.

de Menocal, P.B. (2001). Cultural responses to climate change during the late Holocene. Science 292 (5517): 667-673

ABSTRACT: Modern complex societies exhibit marked resilience to interannual-to- decadal droughts, but cultural responses to multidecadal-to-multicentury droughts can only be addressed by integrating detailed archaeological and paleoclimatic records. Four case studies drawn from New and Old World civilizations document societal responses to prolonged drought, including population dislocations, urban abandonment, and state collapse. Further study of past cultural adaptations to persistent climate change may provide valuable perspective on possible responses of modern societies to future climate change.

C. A. Woodhouse (2004). A paleo perspective on hydroclimatic variability in the western United States. Aquatic Sciences - Research Across Boundaries 66 (4): 346-356

ABSTRACT: Aquatic resources management has become increasingly challenging as human demands on water supplies compete with the needs of natural ecosystems, particularly in arid lands. A wide range of factors, both natural and human, influence aquatic environments, but an important underlying component is climate variability. Instrumental records of hydroclimatic variability from precipitation, streamflow, and snowpack are limited to 100 years or less in most areas of the western U.S., and are too short to provide more than a subset of the full range of natural climate variability. Paleoclimatic proxy data from a variety of sources can be used to extend instrumental records of climate back centuries to tens of thousands of years and longer. In this review, four drought events over the past three millennia, each documented with a number of proxy records, illustrate natural hydroclimatic variability characteristics over the western U.S. Although a small sample of paleoclimate data, these four events exemplify the wide range of natural hydroclimatic variability over space and time. Climate is now, and will continue to be, impacted by human activities, but natural climatic variability will likely be an important underlying factor in future climate variability and change.

R. A. Case, G. M. MacDonald (2003). Tree ring reconstructions of streamflow for three Canadian prairie rivers. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 39 (3): 703-716

ABSTRACT: Information regarding long term hydrological variability is critical for the effective management of surface water resources. In the Canadian Prairie region, growing dependence on major river systems for irrigation and other consumptive uses has resulted in an increasing vulnerability to hydrological drought and growing interprovincial tension. This study presents the first dendrochronological records of streamflow for Canadian Prairie rivers. We present 1,113-year, 522-year, and 325-year reconstructions of total water year (October to September) streamflow for the North Saskatchewan, South Saskatchewan, and Saskatchewan Rivers, respectively. The reconstructions indicate relatively high flows during the 20th Century and provide evidence of past prolonged droughts. Low flows during the 1840s correspond with aridity that extended over much of the western United States. Similarly, an exceptional period of prolonged low flow conditions, approximately 900 A.D. to 1300 A.D., is coincident with evidence of sustained drought across central and western North America. The 16th Century megadrought of the western United States and Mexico, however, does not appear to have had a major impact on the Canadian rivers. The dendrohydrological records illustrate the risks involved if future water policy and infrastructure development in the Canadian Prairies are based solely on records of streamflow variability over the historical record.

Garfin, G. M., Hughes, M.K. (1996). Eastern Oregon PDSI and precipitation reconstructions. NOAA/NGDC Paleoclimatology Program USDA Forest Service Cooperative Agreement PNW 90-174

ABSTRACT: Information regarding long term hydrological variability is critical for the effective management of surface water resources. In the Canadian Prairie region, growing dependence on major river systems for irrigation and other consumptive uses has resulted in an increasing vulnerability to hydrological drought and growing interprovincial tension. This study presents the first dendrochronological records of streamflow for Canadian Prairie rivers. We present 1,113-year, 522-year, and 325-year reconstructions of total water year (October to September) streamflow for the North Saskatchewan, South Saskatchewan, and Saskatchewan Rivers, respectively. The reconstructions indicate relatively high flows during the 20th Century and provide evidence of past prolonged droughts. Low flows during the 1840s correspond with aridity that extended over much of the western United States. Similarly, an exceptional period of prolonged low flow conditions, approximately 900 A.D. to 1300 A.D., is coincident with evidence of sustained drought across central and western North America. The 16th Century megadrought of the western United States and Mexico, however, does not appear to have had a major impact on the Canadian rivers. The dendrohydrological records illustrate the risks involved if future water policy and infrastructure development in the Canadian Prairies are based solely on records of streamflow variability over the historical record.

D. M. Meko, C. A. Woodhouse (2005). Tree-ring footprint of joint hydrologic drought in Sacramento and upper Colorado river basins, western USA. Journal of Hydrology 308 (1-4): 196-213

ABSTRACT: Growing and changing demands on water supply, along with natural climate variability and possible anthropogenically induced climate change, make water resource management and planning increasingly challenging, particularly in arid regions. Instrumental climate and gaged streamflow records provide just a snapshot of recent natural hydrologic variability. In this paper, we use tree-ring-based annual streamflow reconstructions for the Sacramento River in California and the Blue River in western Colorado to analyze the temporal and spatial variability of widespread drought simultaneously affecting both basins over the past five centuries. Stability of joint-drought episodes and the covariation of reconstructed flows in the two basins are analyzed with sliding correlations, spectral analysis and a hypergeometric test. Year-to-year spatial patterns of moisture anomalies in a singular joint-drought episode in the late-1500s are mapped with a network of tree-ring data. Climatological aspects of joint droughts of the 20th century are investigated with 500-mb geopotential height data and climatic indices.

Although flow in the two rivers is only very weakly correlated over the full 538-yr reconstruction period, more years of joint drought occur than would be expected by chance alone. Covariation in reconstructed flows is stronger in the late 1500s and mid-1700s than at any time since 1800. The late 1500s period of drought is not characterized as a decades-long unbroken drought, but as a series of drought impulses broken by wet years, with widespread moisture deficits in joint dry years. Periods of high inter-basin correlation in reconstructed flow are characterized by coherency at frequencies within the ENSO band. However, joint droughts in instrumental gage records do not display any consistent relationship with ENSO or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and so it is difficult to infer either as a causal mechanism for joint droughts in the past.

Tarboton, D.G. (1994). The source hydrology of severe sustained drought in the southwestern United States. Journal of Hydrology 161 (1-4): 31-69

ABSTRACT: This paper considers the risk of drought and develops drought scenarios for use in the study of severe sustained drought in the southwestern United States. The focus is on the Colorado River basin and regions to which Colorado River water is exported, especially southern California, which depends on water from the Colorado River as well as the four major rivers in northern California. Drought scenarios are developed using estimates of unimpaired historic streamflow as well as reconstructions of streamflow based on tree ring widths. Drought scenarios in the Colorado River are defined on the basis of annual flow at Lees Ferry. Possible spatial manifestations of the Colorado River drought scenarios for input into a Colorado River system simulation model are developed by disaggregating the Lees Ferry flow to monthly flows at 29 source locations required by the model. The risk, in terms of return period, of the drought scenarios developed, is assessed using stochastic models applied to both the Colorado River basin and the combined flow in four major California rivers. The risk of severe sustained drought occurring concurrently in the Colorado River basin and California is also assessed.

P. Humphries, D. S. Baldwin (2003). Drought and aquatic ecosystems: an introduction. Freshwater Biology 48 (7): 1141-1146

SUMMARY: 1. This paper introduces, and summarises the key messages of, a series of papers that emanated from a symposium on the Role of Drought in the Ecology of Aquatic Systems, held in Australia in 2001.

2. Defining drought hydrologically is problematic because the return times, intensity, duration and long-term trends in low-flow periods are specific to regions and times. Droughts may instead be referred to as 'significant low-flow periods', many of which have been replaced by 'anti-drought' conditions in rivers as they are used increasingly as irrigation conduits.

3. Droughts can be divided into those that cause predictable, seasonal press disturbances and less predictable, protracted 'ramp' disturbances. However, while droughts may be 'ramp' disturbances, their effects on aquatic biota are most likely to be 'stepped' when geomorphological or hydrological thresholds are crossed, causing abrupt changes in biological community structure and ecosystem processes.

4. Physical, morphological, physiological or behavioural refugia confer resistance or resilience to riverine populations and communities that experience drought conditions. The physical and chemical parameters associated with refugia habitats and their formation, influence population parameters within, and interactions among, species and can have protracted reproductive consequences, even well after the cessation of the drought.

5. Fish, invertebrate and plant populations and assemblages seem to recover rapidly from drought. Most studies of the effects of drought, however, have arisen fortuitously and have involved relatively short temporal, and small spatial, scales. Innovative approaches, such as microsatellite DNA analyses, can reveal that the effects of drought may be profound and long-lasting, resulting in population bottlenecks and altering the course of the evolution of species.

6. During periods of drought, decreases in inputs of dissolved organic carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus may lead to carbon limitation to microbial metabolism, resulting in autotrophic production being favoured over heterotrophic production.

7. Long-term climate trends, as indicated by palaeoecological evidence, suggest that, at least for Australia, droughts are likely to occur more frequently in the future. Anthropogenic effects on climate are likely to exacerbate this.

8. It is important that drought is seen for what it is: a natural extreme of the flow continuum, with flooding at the other extreme. Thus, despite the potential for dramatic impacts on aquatic biota and the negative social connotations associated with such events, drought must be incorporated into river management plans.

Palmer, W. C. (1965). Meteorological drought. U.S. Department of Commerce, Weather Bureau: 58 pp.

DESCRIPTION: The Drought Severity Index (Palmer 1965) was developed to measure the departure of the moisture supply at specific locations. The index is based on the supply-and-demand concept of the water balance equation, taking into account precipitation and temperature data, as well as the local Available Water Content (AWC) of the soil. The objective of the Palmer Drought Index was to provide measurements of moisture conditions that were standardized so that comparisons using the index could be made between locations and between months.

G. Rossi, M. Benedini, G. Tsakiris, S. Giakoumakis (1992). On regional drought estimation and analysis. Water Resources Management 6 (4): 249-277

ABSTRACT: The main objective of this paper is to review the existing methodologies for the estimation and analysis of regional drought. As a first step, point drought methods are presented. Further emphasis is given to the definition and estimation of regional drought characteristics. Stochastic processes for simulating the time-space variability of drought, are presented. Finally, illustrative examples are shown and recommendations for further research are given.

P. T. Soulé (1993). Spatial patterns and teleconnections of Utah-based droughts in the contiguous U.S.. Journal of Arid Environments 24 (3): 17-229

ABSTRACT: The drought history of the Dixie, Utah Climatic Division (DUCD) is used to examine concurrent moisture patterns across the U.S.A. when drought is firmly established in the arid intermountain west. The 20 drought events identified in this climatic division during the 94 year, 4-month study period are broken down into cold and warm-season subsets. Isoline maps of average values of the Palmer Drought Severity Index for all United States climatic divisions show that droughts associated with the DUCD are widespread in both cold and warm-seasons. Regions which are clearly in and out-of-phase with the western core region of drought are identified.

P. J. Hanson, J. F. Weltzin (2000). Drought disturbance from climate change: response of United States forests. Science of The Total Environment 262 (3): 205-220

ABSTRACT: Predicted changes in climate have raised concerns about potential impacts on terrestrial forest ecosystem productivity, biogeochemical cycling, and the availability of water resources. This review summarizes characteristics of drought typical to the major forest regions of the United States, future drought projections, and important features of plant and forest community response to drought. Research needs and strategies for coping with future drought are also discussed. Notwithstanding uncertainties surrounding the magnitude and direction of future climate change, and the net impact on soil water availability to forests, a number of conclusions can be made regarding the sensitivity of forests to future drought. The primary response will be a reduction in net primary production and stand water use, which are driven by reductions in stomatal conductance. Mortality of small stature plants (i.e. seedlings and saplings) is a likely consequence of severe drought. In comparison, deep rooting and substantial reserves of carbohydrates and nutrients make mature trees less susceptible to water limitations caused by severe or prolonged drought. However, severe or prolonged drought may render even mature trees more susceptible to insects or disease. Drought-induced reductions in decomposition rates may cause a buildup of organic material on the forest floor, with ramifications for fire regimes and nutrient cycling. Although early model predictions of climate change impacts suggested extensive forest dieback and species migration, more recent analyses suggest that catastrophic dieback will be a local phenomenon, and changes in forest composition will be a relatively gradual process. Better climate predictions at regional scales, with a higher temporal resolution (months to days), coupled with carefully designed, field-based experiments that incorporate multiple driving variables (e.g. temperature and CO2 ), will advance our ability to predict the response of different forest regions to climate change.

C.D. Allen, D. D. Breshears (1998). Drought-induced shift of a forest-woodland ecotone: Rapid landscape response to climate variation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 95 (25): 14839-14842

ABSTRACT: In coming decades, global climate changes are expected to produce large shifts in vegetation distributions at unprecedented rates. These shifts are expected to be most rapid and extreme at ecotones, the boundaries between ecosystems, particularly those in semiarid landscapes. However, current models do not adequately provide for such rapid effects, particularly those caused by mortality largely because of the lack of data from field studies. Here we report the most rapid landscape-scale shift of a woody ecotone ever documented: in northern New Mexico in the 1950s, the ecotone between semiarid ponderosa pine forest and piñon-juniper woodland shifted extensively (2 km or more) and rapidly (<5 years) through mortality of ponderosa pines in response to a severe drought. This shift has persisted for 40 years. Forest patches within the shift zone became much more fragmented, and soil erosion greatly accelerated. The rapidity and the complex dynamics of the persistent shift point to the need to represent more accurately these dynamics, especially the mortality factor, in assessments of the effects of climate change.

R. Acuna-Soto, D. W. Stahle, M. K. Cleaveland, M.D. Therrell (2002). Megadrought and megadeath in 16th century Mexico. Emerging Infectious Diseases 8 (4): 360-362

ABSTRACT: The native population collapse in 16th century Mexico was a demographic catastrophe with one of the highest death rates in history. Recently developed tree-ring evidence has allowed the levels of precipitation to be reconstructed for north central Mexico, adding to the growing body of epidemiologic evidence and indicating that the 1545 and 1576 epidemics of cocoliztli (Nahuatl for "pest”) were indigenous hemorrhagic fevers transmitted by rodent hosts and aggravated by extreme drought conditions.

Guardiola-Claramonte, M., Adams, H. D., Barron-Gafford, G. A., Villegas, J. C., Breshears, D. D., Zou, C. B., Troch, P.A., Huxman, T. E. (2009). Temperature sensitivity of drought-induced tree mortality portends increased regional die-off under global-change-type drought. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106 (17): 7063-7066

ABSTRACT: Large-scale biogeographical shifts in vegetation are predicted in response to the altered precipitation and temperature regimes associated with global climate change. Vegetation shifts have profound ecological impacts and are an important climate-ecosystem feedback through their alteration of carbon, water, and energy exchanges of the land surface. Of particular concern is the potential for warmer temperatures to compound the effects of increasingly severe droughts by triggering widespread vegetation shifts via woody plant mortality. The sensitivity of tree mortality to temperature is dependent on which of 2 non-mutually-exclusive mechanisms predominates—temperature-sensitive carbon starvation in response to a period of protracted water stress or temperature-insensitive sudden hydraulic failure under extreme water stress (cavitation). Here we show that experimentally induced warmer temperatures (≈4 °C) shortened the time to drought-induced mortality inPinus edulis (piñon shortened pine) trees by nearly a third, with temperature-dependent differences in cumulative respiration costs implicating carbon starvation as the primary mechanism of mortality. Extrapolating this temperature effect to the historic frequency of water deficit in the southwestern United States predicts a 5-fold increase in the frequency of regional-scale tree die-off events for this species due to temperature alone. Projected increases in drought frequency due to changes in precipitation and increases in stress from biotic agents (e.g., bark beetles) would further exacerbate mortality. Our results demonstrate the mechanism by which warmer temperatures have exacerbated recent regional die-off events and background mortality rates. Because of pervasive projected increases in temperature, our results portend widespread increases in the extent and frequency of vegetation die-off.

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