The Role of Middle and Late Holocene North Pacific Sea Surface Temperatures on Precipitation Patterns in the Western United States
Abstract:Comparative analyses of marine and terrestrial proxy records reveal regional changes in precipitation seasonality and relationships with sea surface temperatures (SSTs) as indicators of ocean-atmosphere dynamics. Enhanced La Niña-like conditions and cooler SSTs characterized the middle Holocene (~8.O to 4.0 ka) waters off northern California and in the eastern equatorial Pacific. Terrestrial records suggest that winters in the western US were generally dry, although wetter intervals attributed to winter precipitation beginning at ~5.5 ka are documented in coastal Oregon and Washington and in the northern Great Basin. Proxy studies suggest that the North American Monsoon (NAM) intensified beginning at ~7.5 ka, coinciding with warming Gulf of California SSTs coupled with a more northerly position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). If monsoonal precipitation spread northward into the eastern Great Basin and the western Rockies of Colorado, it is possible that wetter intervals of the middle Holocene in Nevada, Utah, and western Colorado may reflect increases in both summer and winter precipitation.
El Niño event frequency and intensity began increasing between 4.0 and 3.0 ka, when modern ocean-atmosphere dynamics appear to have been established along the California coastal margin. Effects included cool, wet winters, enhanced spring coastal upwelling that extended into the summer, and higher September-October SSTs corresponding with the end of the coastal upwelling season. Winters became wetter in both the coastal and interior regions of the western US, while spring and summers generally became drier. The intensity of NAM precipitation also declined due to a more southerly mean position of the ITCZ. By ~3.0 cal ka the modern climatology of the margins of eastern North Pacific was established, resulting in intensification of the northwest-southwest precipitation dipole and the development of distinct Pacific Decadal Oscillation cycles.