Southwestern USA Drought over Multiple Millennia

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Matthew W Salzer, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, United States and Kurt F Kipfmueller, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, United States
Severe to extreme drought conditions currently exist across much of the American West. There is increasing concern that climate change may be worsening droughts in the West and particularly the Southwest. Thus, it is important to understand the role of natural variability and to place current conditions in a long-term context. We present a tree-ring derived reconstruction of regional-scale precipitation for the Southwestern USA over several millennia. A network of 48 tree-ring chronologies from California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado was used. All of the chronologies are at least 1,000 years long. The network was subjected to data reduction through PCA and a “nested” multiple linear regression reconstruction approach. The regression model was able to capture 72% of the variance in September-August precipitation over the last 1,000 years and 53% of the variance over the first millennium of the Common Era. Variance captured and spatial coverage further declined back in time as the shorter chronologies dropped out of the model, eventually reaching 24% of variance captured at 3250 BC. Results show regional droughts on decadal- to multi-decadal scales have been prominent and persistent phenomena in the region over the last several millennia. Anthropogenic warming is likely to exacerbate the effects of future droughts on human and other biotic populations.