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David Meko

Abstract

Tree-ring site chronologies, the predictors for most dendroclimatic reconstructions, are essentially mean-value functions with a time varying sample size (number of trees) and sample composition. Because reconstruction models are calibrated and verified on the most recent, best-replicated part of the chronologies, regression and verification statistics can be misleading as indicators of long-term reconstruction accuracy. A new reconstruction method is described that circumvents the use of site chronologies and instead derives predictor variables from indices of individual trees. Separate regression models are estimated and cross validated for various time segments of the tree-ring record, depending on the trees available at the time. This approach allows the reconstruction to extend to the first year covered by any tree in the network and yields direct evaluation of the change in reconstruction accuracy with tree-ring sample composition. The method includes two regression stages. The first is to separately deconvolve the local climate signal for individual trees, and the second is to weight the deconvolved signals into estimates of the climatic variable to be reconstructed. The method is illustrated in an application of precipitation and tree-ring data for the San Pedro River Basin in southeastern Arizona. Extensions to larger-scale problems and spatial reconstruction are suggested.

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Connie A. Woodhouse
and
David Meko

Abstract

The potential of reconstructing the number of winter precipitation days from tree-rings in the southwestern United States is explored in this study. This variable, an alternative to the measure of total precipitation, has not previously been used in dendroclimatic reconstructions. However, it may be a more meaningful measure of seasonal rainfall and indicator of anomalies in atmospheric circulation features than total precipitation in areas such as the arid Southwest, where the distribution of rainfall is spatially variable. The number of precipitation days in the region encompassing southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona was reconstructed for the time period 1702–1983 from a collection of tree-ring chronologies in this area. Results from this study show that tree-ring chronologies explain 71% of the variance in the regional record of the number of precipitation days. The reconstruction is statistically verified and validated with independent data. Tree-ring chronologies in this region are better able to explain variations in precipitation-day numbers than total precipitation, suggesting that other dendroclimatic studies may benefit from the use of this variable as well.

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Edward R. Cook
,
David M. Meko
, and
Charles W. Stockton

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.

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David Meko
,
Edward R. Cook
,
David W. Stahle
,
Charles W. Stockton
, and
Malcolm K. Hughes

Abstract

A network of 248 tree-ring chronologies in the conterminous United States is assembled and analyzed by rotated principal components analysis (RPCA) to delineate “regions” of common tree-growth variation during the period 1705–1979. Spatial continuity of the tree-ring data is summarized by variogram analysis, and tree-ring data are gridded before RPCA to reduce effects of site clustering. Principal component drought information is evaluated by comparing PC scores and primary pattern coefficients with Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) data from instrumental records.

High PC pattern coefficients group geographically into regions coinciding roughly with nine drought regions delineated by RPCA of PDSI by other researchers. The drought signal as measured by the correlation between tree-ring PC scores and July PDSI, 1929–79, is strongest in the South and the interior West (r>0.7), and weakest in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest (r<0.16). A count of years with large negative PC scores in multiple regions marks the 1950s as the extreme in widespread drought across the southern United States to 1705.

Tree-growth regions are sensitive to whether tree-ring data are gridded before RPCA. Principal components on ungridded tree-ring data tend to center on dense clusters of sites. The importance of site density is most noticeable in the RPCA results for the southeast, where the gridded data yield a PC centered on a group of climate-sensitive but widely spaced bald cypress chronologies. Cross-validation indicates that gridding of tree-ring anomalies over different species for drought reconstruction is more appropriate in the semiarid southwest than in cooler, moister regions—especially the northeast and the Pacific Northwest. Our results endorse the large-scale chronology network as a long-term proxy for the spatial and temporal patterns of past drought across the United States.

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Edward R. Cook
,
David M. Meko
,
David W. Stahle
, and
Malcolm K. Cleaveland

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.

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Michael D. Dettinger
,
Daniel R. Cayan
,
Henry F. Diaz
, and
David M. Meko

Abstract

The overall amount of precipitation deposited along the West Coast and western cordillera of North America from 25° to 55°N varies from year to year, and superimposed on this domain-average variability are varying north–south contrasts on timescales from at least interannual to interdecadal. In order to better understand the north–south precipitation contrasts, their interannual and decadal variations are studied in terms of how much they affect overall precipitation amounts and how they are related to large-scale climatic patterns. Spatial empirical orthogonal functions (EOFs) and spatial moments (domain average, central latitude, and latitudinal spread) of zonally averaged precipitation anomalies along the westernmost parts of North America are analyzed, and each is correlated with global sea level pressure (SLP) and sea surface temperature series, on interannual (defined here as 3–7 yr) and decadal (>7 yr) timescales. The interannual band considered here corresponds to timescales that are particularly strong in tropical climate variations and thus is expected to contain much precipitation variability that is related to El Niño–Southern Oscillation; the decadal scale is defined so as to capture the whole range of long-term climatic variations affecting western North America.

Zonal EOFs of the interannual and decadal filtered versions of the zonal-precipitation series are remarkably similar. At both timescales, two leading EOFs describe 1) a north–south seesaw of precipitation pivoting near 40°N and 2) variations in precipitation near 40°N, respectively. The amount of overall precipitation variability is only about 10% of the mean and is largely determined by precipitation variations around 40°–45°N and most consistently influenced by nearby circulation patterns; in this sense, domain-average precipitation is closely related to the second EOF. The central latitude and latitudinal spread of precipitation distributions are strongly influenced by precipitation variations in the southern parts of western North America and are closely related to the first EOF. Central latitude of precipitation moves south (north) with tropical warming (cooling) in association with midlatitude western Pacific SLP variations, on both interannual and decadal timescales. Regional patterns and zonal averages of precipitation-sensitive tree-ring series are used to corroborate these patterns and to extend them into the past and appear to share much long- and short-term information with the instrumentally based zonal precipitation EOFs and moments.

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Toby R. Ault
,
Julia E. Cole
,
Jonathan T. Overpeck
,
Gregory T. Pederson
, and
David M. Meko

Abstract

Projected changes in global rainfall patterns will likely alter water supplies and ecosystems in semiarid regions during the coming century. Instrumental and paleoclimate data indicate that natural hydroclimate fluctuations tend to be more energetic at low (multidecadal to multicentury) than at high (interannual) frequencies. State-of-the-art global climate models do not capture this characteristic of hydroclimate variability, suggesting that the models underestimate the risk of future persistent droughts. Methods are developed here for assessing the risk of such events in the coming century using climate model projections as well as observational (paleoclimate) information. Where instrumental and paleoclimate data are reliable, these methods may provide a more complete view of prolonged drought risk. In the U.S. Southwest, for instance, state-of-the-art climate model projections suggest the risk of a decade-scale megadrought in the coming century is less than 50%; the analysis herein suggests that the risk is at least 80%, and may be higher than 90% in certain areas. The likelihood of longer-lived events (>35 yr) is between 20% and 50%, and the risk of an unprecedented 50-yr megadrought is nonnegligible under the most severe warming scenario (5%–10%). These findings are important to consider as adaptation and mitigation strategies are developed to cope with regional impacts of climate change, where population growth is high and multidecadal megadrought—worse than anything seen during the last 2000 years—would pose unprecedented challenges to water resources in the region.

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Scott St. George
,
David M. Meko
,
Martin-Philippe Girardin
,
Glen M. MacDonald
,
Erik Nielsen
,
Greg T. Pederson
,
David J. Sauchyn
,
Jacques C. Tardif
, and
Emma Watson

Abstract

Ring-width data from 138 sites in the Canadian Prairie Provinces and adjacent regions are used to estimate summer drought severity during the past several hundred years. The network was divided into five regional groups based on geography, tree species, and length of record: the eastern Rockies, northern Saskatchewan, central Manitoba, southern Manitoba, and northwestern Ontario. Regional tree-ring records are primarily related to summer moisture and drought conditions, and are less responsive to droughts caused by deficits in winter precipitation. These summer-sensitive data are not linearly related to major modes of climate variability, including ENSO and the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO), which primarily affect the climate of western Canada during winter. Extended drought records inferred from tree rings indicate that drought on the Canadian Prairies has exhibited considerable spatial heterogeneity over the last several centuries. For northern Saskatchewan and northwestern Ontario, intervals of persistently low tree growth during the twentieth century were just as long as or longer than low-growth intervals in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. Longer records from southern Alberta suggest that the most intense dry spell in that area during the last 500 yr occurred during the 1720s. At the eastern side of the prairies, the longest dry event is centered around 1700 and may coincide with low lake stands in Manitoba, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Although the Canadian Prairies were dry at times during the 1500s, there is no regional analog to the sixteenth-century “megadroughts” that affected much of the western United States and northern Mexico.

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David W. Stahle
,
Edward R. Cook
,
Dorian J. Burnette
,
Max C. A. Torbenson
,
Ian M. Howard
,
Daniel Griffin
,
Jose Villanueva Diaz
,
Benjamin I. Cook
,
A. Park Williams
,
Emma Watson
,
David J. Sauchyn
,
Neil Pederson
,
Connie A. Woodhouse
,
Gregory T. Pederson
,
David Meko
,
Bethany Coulthard
, and
Christopher J. Crawford

Abstract

Cool- and warm-season precipitation totals have been reconstructed on a gridded basis for North America using 439 tree-ring chronologies correlated with December–April totals and 547 different chronologies correlated with May–July totals. These discrete seasonal chronologies are not significantly correlated with the alternate season; the December–April reconstructions are skillful over most of the southern and western United States and north-central Mexico, and the May–July estimates have skill over most of the United States, southwestern Canada, and northeastern Mexico. Both the strong continent-wide El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) signal embedded in the cool-season reconstructions and the Arctic Oscillation signal registered by the warm-season estimates faithfully reproduce the sign, intensity, and spatial patterns of these ocean–atmospheric influences on North American precipitation as recorded with instrumental data. The reconstructions are included in the North American Seasonal Precipitation Atlas (NASPA) and provide insight into decadal droughts and pluvials. They indicate that the sixteenth-century megadrought, the most severe and sustained North American drought of the past 500 years, was the combined result of three distinct seasonal droughts, each bearing unique spatial patterns potentially associated with seasonal forcing from ENSO, the Arctic Oscillation, and the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation. Significant 200–500-yr-long trends toward increased precipitation have been detected in the cool- and warm-season reconstructions for eastern North America. These seasonal precipitation changes appear to be part of the positive moisture trend measured in other paleoclimate proxies for the eastern area that began as a result of natural forcing before the industrial revolution and may have recently been enhanced by anthropogenic climate change.

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