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A New Assessment of Possible Solar and Lunar Forcing of the Bidecadal Drought Rhythm in the Western United States

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  • 1 Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, New York
  • | 2 Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
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Abstract

A new drought area index (DAI) for the United States has been developed based on a high-quality network of drought reconstructions from tree rings. This DAI is remarkably similar to one developed earlier based on much less data and shows strong evidence for a persistent bidecadal drought rhythm in the western United States since 1700. This rhythm has in the past been associated with possible forcing by the 22-yr Hale solar magnetic cycle and the 18.6-yr lunar nodal tidal cycle. The authors make a new assessment of these possible forcings on DAI using different methods of analysis. In so doing, they confirm most of the previous findings. In particular, there is a reasonably strong statistical association between the bidecadal drought area rhythm and years of Hale solar cycle minima and 18.6-yr lunar tidal maxima. The authors also show that the putative solar and lunar effects appear to be interacting to modulate the drought area rhythm, especially since 1800. These results do not eliminate the possibility that the drought area rhythm is, in fact, internally forced by coupled ocean–atmosphere processes. Recent modeling results suggest that unstable ocean–atmosphere interactions in the North Pacific could be responsible for the drought rhythm as well. However, the results presented here do not easily allow for the rejection of the solar and lunar forcing hypotheses either.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Edward R. Cook, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY 10964.

* Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Contribution Number 5623.

Email: drdendro@ldeo.columbia.edu

Abstract

A new drought area index (DAI) for the United States has been developed based on a high-quality network of drought reconstructions from tree rings. This DAI is remarkably similar to one developed earlier based on much less data and shows strong evidence for a persistent bidecadal drought rhythm in the western United States since 1700. This rhythm has in the past been associated with possible forcing by the 22-yr Hale solar magnetic cycle and the 18.6-yr lunar nodal tidal cycle. The authors make a new assessment of these possible forcings on DAI using different methods of analysis. In so doing, they confirm most of the previous findings. In particular, there is a reasonably strong statistical association between the bidecadal drought area rhythm and years of Hale solar cycle minima and 18.6-yr lunar tidal maxima. The authors also show that the putative solar and lunar effects appear to be interacting to modulate the drought area rhythm, especially since 1800. These results do not eliminate the possibility that the drought area rhythm is, in fact, internally forced by coupled ocean–atmosphere processes. Recent modeling results suggest that unstable ocean–atmosphere interactions in the North Pacific could be responsible for the drought rhythm as well. However, the results presented here do not easily allow for the rejection of the solar and lunar forcing hypotheses either.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Edward R. Cook, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY 10964.

* Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Contribution Number 5623.

Email: drdendro@ldeo.columbia.edu

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