2000 Years of Drought Variability in Inner Asia from Tree Rings

Thursday, 17 December 2015: 15:25
2003 (Moscone West)
Amy E Hessl1, Neil Pederson2, Kevin J Anchukaitis3, Caroline Leland4, Oyunsanaa Byambasuren5, Baatarbileg Nachin5 and Laia Andreu-Hayles4, (1)West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, United States, (2)Harvard University, Harvard Forest, Cambridge, MA, United States, (3)Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, United States, (4)Lamont -Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY, United States, (5)National University of Mongolia, School of Applied Sciences and Engineering, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Understanding connections between climate, ecosystems, and society during historical and modern climatic transitions requires annual resolution records with high fidelity climate signals. In semi-arid regions, high temperatures are projected to increase the frequency, duration, and severity of droughts in coming decades. Between 1996-2014, Mongolia experienced an extended drought that coincided with a transition away from pastoralism as thousands of families lost their herds and migrated to informal urban settlements. Because Mongolia’s climate is highly variable, it is difficult to place recent climatic extremes and associated social and ecological change in context without long records of climatic variability. Here we ask: how extreme was the 21st century drought in the last 2000 years? We present two 2000 year long tree-ring reconstructions of warm-season drought, derived from live and dead Siberian pine (Pinus sibirica) trees from two lava flows in central Mongolia. Trees growing on the lava today are stunted and widely spaced, occurring on microsites with little to no soil development. These trees are water-stressed and their radial growth is correlated with both soil water availability (scPDSI) and grassland productivity (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)). To contextualize the severity of recent droughts and to explore potential forcing factors, we compare recent drought persistence to the distribution of events in the past and perform long control runs of GFDL climate model. Our reconstructions, calibrated and validated on instrumental June-August scPDSI (1959-2009) account for >55% of the variability in the regional scPDSI when >70% of the annual rainfall occurs. Our tree-ring data combined with existing reconstructions of temperature, meteorological data, and model results suggest that the early 21st century drought was the hottest and one of the most persistent droughts in the last 2000 years. These dry conditions were occurred with reductions in NPP of grasslands and loss of lake area. Our results are consistent with model projections of warming in Inner Asia but suggest that future warming may overwhelm increases in precipitation leading to similar “heat droughts”, with potentially severe ecological and social consequences for Mongolia.