Holocene Evolution of Precipitation Patterns in the Southwestern US, Mexico, Central America, and Caribbean: Comparison with Tropical SST Records

Thursday, 18 December 2014
John Arthur Barron, USGS, Menlo Park, CA, United States, Sarah E Metcalfe, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom and Sarah Jane Davies, Aberystwyth University, Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth, United Kingdom
We evaluate proxy reconstructions of Holocene records precipitation in the North American Monsoon region (SW US and northern Mexico) and regions to the south (southern Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean). Seventy-seven precipitation records are tabulated at 2-3 kyr increments for the past 12 kyr, with results displayed mainly on maps. Sites currently dominated by summer precipitation, coupled with proxy records that distinguish summer vs. winter vegetation are used to estimate summer precipitation. Resulting patterns of precipitation variability are evaluated against SST reconstructions from surrounding tropical seas -eastern tropical Pacific, Gulf of California (GoC), Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico (GoM), which are source areas for summer precipitation.

During the Younger Dryas, ca. 12 ka, widespread drying in southern regions contrasted with evidence for wetter conditions in multiple records from the SW US. By 9 ka wetter conditions had spread to the southern regions, likely reflecting an increased Caribbean low-level jet associated with an enhanced Bermuda High. Pacific westerlies contributed significant winter precipitation to the southwestern US and northernmost Mexico at 9 ka. The modern geographical pattern of summer precipitation was established by 6 ka, as the Bermuda High moved northward following the demise of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. SSTs in the GoC and GoM increased, and the NAM strengthened. Increased regional precipitation differences are apparent by 4 ka, likely reflecting enhanced ENSO variability. Most of the southern region experienced increased precipitation during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA), whereas winter drought dominated in the north. In contrast, much of the Little Ice Age (LIA) was characterized by generally drier conditions in Central America and Mexico, with wetter conditions in the SW US. Results are broadly supportive of enhanced La Niña-like conditions during the MCA vs. increased ENSO variability during the LIA.