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Max C. A. Torbenson
and
David W. Stahle

Abstract

Land surface feedbacks impart a significant degree of persistence between cool and warm season moisture availability in the central United States. However, the degree of correlation between these two variables is subject to major changes that appear to occur on decadal to multidecadal time scales, even in the relatively short 115-yr instrumental record. Tree-ring reconstructions have extended the limited observational record of long-term soil moisture levels, but such reconstructions do not resolve the seasonal differences in moisture conditions. We present two separate 331-yr-long seasonal moisture reconstructions for the central United States, based on sensitive subannual and annual tree-ring chronologies that have strong and separate seasonal moisture signals: an estimate of the long-term May soil moisture balance and a second estimate of the short-term June–August atmospheric moisture balance. The predictors used in each seasonal reconstruction are not significantly correlated with the alternate season target. Both reconstructions capture over 70% of the interannual variance in the instrumental data for the calibration period and also share significant decadal and multidecadal variability with the instrumental record in both the calibration and validation periods. The instrumental and reconstructed moisture levels are both positively correlated between spring and summer strongly enough to have potential value in seasonal prediction. However, the relationship between spring and summer moisture exhibits major decadal changes in strength and even sign that appear to be related to large-scale ocean–atmosphere dynamics associated with the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation.

Full access
Ian M. Howard
,
David W. Stahle
,
Michael D. Dettinger
,
Cody Poulsen
,
F. Martin Ralph
,
Max C. A. Torbenson
, and
Alexander Gershunov

Abstract

The variability of water year precipitation and selected blue oak tree-ring chronologies in California are both dominated by heavy precipitation delivered during just a few days each year. These heavy precipitation events can spell the difference between surplus or deficit water supply and elevated flood risk. Some blue oak chronologies are highly correlated with water year precipitation (r = 0.84) but are equally well correlated (r = 0.82) with heavy precipitation totals ≥25.4 mm (1 in., ≈95th percentile of daily totals, 1949–2004). The blue oak correlation with nonheavy daily totals is much weaker (<25.4 mm; r = 0.55). Consequently, some blue oak chronologies represent selective proxies for the temporal and spatial variability of heavy precipitation totals and are used to reconstruct the amount and number of days with heavy precipitation in northern California from 1582 to 2021. Instrumental and reconstructed heavy precipitation totals are strongly correlated with gridded atmospheric river–related precipitation over the western United States, especially in central California. Spectral analysis indicates that instrumental heavy precipitation totals may be dominated by high-frequency variability and the nonheavy totals by low-frequency variance. The reconstruction of heavy precipitation is coherent with instrumental heavy totals across the frequency domain and include concentrations of variance at ENSO and biennial frequencies. Return period analyses calculated using instrumental heavy precipitation totals are representative of the return periods in the blue oak reconstruction despite the large differences in series length. Decadal surges in the amount, frequency, and interannual volatility of heavy precipitation totals are reconstructed, likely reflecting episodes of elevated atmospheric river activity in the past.

Significance Statement

Tree-ring chronologies of blue oak are highly correlated with precipitation delivered to northern California during just the heaviest days of precipitation each year. The reconstruction of heavy precipitation indicates decadal episodes with a high frequency of extreme precipitation. These episodes of frequent heavy precipitation likely arose because of elevated atmospheric river activity and are relevant to the analysis of water supply and flood hazard in California.

Open access
Max C. A. Torbenson
,
Ulf Büntgen
,
Jan Esper
,
Otmar Urban
,
Jan Balek
,
Frederick Reinig
,
Paul J. Krusic
,
Edurne Martinez del Castillo
,
Rudolf Brázdil
,
Daniela Semerádová
,
Petr Štěpánek
,
Natálie Pernicová
,
Tomáš Kolář
,
Michal Rybníček
,
Eva Koňasová
,
Juliana Arbelaez
, and
Miroslav Trnka

Abstract

Central Europe has experienced a sequence of unprecedented summer droughts since 2015, which had considerable effects on the functioning and productivity of natural and agricultural systems. Placing these recent extremes in a long-term context of natural climate variability is, however, constrained by the limited length of observational records. Here, we use tree-ring stable oxygen and carbon isotopes to develop annually resolved reconstructions of growing season temperature and summer moisture variability for central Europe during the past 2000 years. Both records are independently interpolated across the southern Czech Republic and northeastern Austria to produce explicit estimates of the optimum agroclimatic zones, based on modern references of climatic forcing. Historical documentation of agricultural productivity and climate variability since 1090 CE provides strong quantitative verification of our new reconstructions. Our isotope records not only contain clear expressions of the medieval (920–1000 CE) and Renaissance (early sixteenth century) droughts, but also the relative influence of temperature and moisture on hydroclimatic conditions during the first millennium (including previously reported pluvials during the early third, fifth, and seventh centuries of the Common Era). We conclude that Czech agricultural production has experienced significant extremes over the past 2000 years, which includes periods for which there are no modern analogs.

Significance Statement

As temperatures increase, droughts are becoming a growing concern for European agriculture. Our study allows recent extremes to be contextualized and helps to better the understanding of potential drivers. Stable carbon and oxygen isotopes in oak tree rings were analyzed to reconstruct year-to-year and longer-term changes in both temperature and moisture over central Europe and the past 2000 years. We combine these proxy-based climate reconstructions to model how well crops were growing in the past. The early fifth and the early sixteenth centuries of the Common Era were most likely characterized by extreme conditions beyond what has been experienced in recent decades. Our reconstructions of natural variability might be used as a baseline in projections of future conditions.

Restricted access
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.

Free access