Unprecedented 21st century drought risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains.
ABSTRACT: In the Southwest and Central Plains of Western North America, climate change is expected to increase drought severity in the coming decades. These regions nevertheless experienced extended Medieval-era droughts that were more persistent than any historical event, providing crucial targets in the paleoclimate record for benchmarking the severity of future drought risks. We use an empirical drought reconstruction and three soil moisture metrics from 17 state-of-the-art general circulation models to show that these models project significantly drier conditions in the later half of the 21st century compared to the 20th century and earlier paleoclimatic intervals. This desiccation is consistent across most of the models and moisture balance variables, indicating a coherent and robust drying response to warming despite the diversity of models and metrics analyzed. Notably, future drought risk will likely exceed even the driest centuries of the Medieval Climate Anomaly (1100-1300 CE) in both moderate (RCP 4.5) and high (RCP 8.5) future emissions scenarios, leading to unprecedented drought conditions during the last millennium.
Project description:Future climate changes could alter hydrometeorological patterns and change the nature of droughts at global to regional scales. However, there are considerable uncertainties in future drought projections. Here, we focus on agricultural drought by analyzing surface soil moisture outputs from CMIP5 multi-model ensembles (MMEs) under RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6.0, and RCP8.5 scenarios. First, the annual mean soil moisture by the end of the 21st century shows statistically significant large-scale drying and limited areas of wetting for all scenarios, with stronger drying as the strength of radiative forcing increases. Second, the MME mean spatial extent of severe drought is projected to increase for all regions and all future RCP scenarios, and most notably in Central America (CAM), Europe and Mediterranean (EUM), Tropical South America (TSA), and South Africa (SAF). Third, the model uncertainty presents the largest source of uncertainty (over 80%) across the entire 21st century among the three sources of uncertainty: internal variability, model uncertainty, and scenario uncertainty. Finally, we find that the spatial pattern and magnitude of annual and seasonal signal to noise (S/N) in soil moisture anomalies do not change significantly by lead time, indicating that the spreads of uncertainties become larger as the signals become stronger.
Project description:Recently the Southwest has experienced a spate of dryness, which presents a challenge to the sustainability of current water use by human and natural systems in the region. In the Colorado River Basin, the early 21st century drought has been the most extreme in over a century of Colorado River flows, and might occur in any given century with probability of only 60%. However, hydrological model runs from downscaled Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment climate change simulations suggest that the region is likely to become drier and experience more severe droughts than this. In the latter half of the 21st century the models produced considerably greater drought activity, particularly in the Colorado River Basin, as judged from soil moisture anomalies and other hydrological measures. As in the historical record, most of the simulated extreme droughts build up and persist over many years. Durations of depleted soil moisture over the historical record ranged from 4 to 10 years, but in the 21st century simulations, some of the dry events persisted for 12 years or more. Summers during the observed early 21st century drought were remarkably warm, a feature also evident in many simulated droughts of the 21st century. These severe future droughts are aggravated by enhanced, globally warmed temperatures that reduce spring snowpack and late spring and summer soil moisture. As the climate continues to warm and soil moisture deficits accumulate beyond historical levels, the model simulations suggest that sustaining water supplies in parts of the Southwest will be a challenge.
Project description:Since the spring 2018, a large part of Europe has been in the midst of a record-setting drought. Using long-term observations, we demonstrate that the occurrence of the 2018-2019 (consecutive) summer drought is unprecedented in the last 250 years, and its combined impact on the growing season vegetation activities is stronger compared to the 2003 European drought. Using a suite of climate model simulation outputs, we underpin the role of anthropogenic warming on exacerbating the future risk of such a consecutive drought event. Under the highest Representative Concentration Pathway, (RCP 8.5), we notice a seven-fold increase in the occurrence of the consecutive droughts, with additional 40 ([Formula: see text]) million ha of cultivated areas being affected by such droughts, during the second half of the twenty-first century. The occurrence is significantly reduced under low and medium scenarios (RCP 2.6 and RCP 4.5), suggesting that an effective mitigation strategy could aid in reducing the risk of future consecutive droughts.
Project description:Climate change is shifting both the habitat suitability and the timing of critical biological events, such as flowering and fruiting, for plant species across the globe. Here, we ask how both the distribution and phenology of three food-producing shrubs native to northwestern North America might shift as the climate changes. To address this question, we compared gridded climate data with species location data to identify climate variables that best predicted the current bioclimatic niches of beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta), Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), and salal (Gaultheria shallon). We also developed thermal-sum models for the timing of flowering and fruit ripening for these species. We then used multi-model ensemble future climate projections to estimate how species range and phenology may change under future conditions. Modelling efforts showed extreme minimum temperature, climate moisture deficit, and mean summer precipitation were predictive of climatic suitability across all three species. Future bioclimatic niche models project substantial reductions in habitat suitability across the lower elevation and southern portions of the species' current ranges by the end of the 21st century. Thermal-sum phenology models for these species indicate that flowering and the ripening of fruits and nuts will advance an average of 25 days by the mid-21st century, and 36 days by the late-21st century under a high emissions scenario (RCP 8.5). Future changes in the climatic niche and phenology of these important food-producing species may alter trophic relationships, with cascading impacts on regional ecosystems.
Project description:Central Europe was characterized by a humid-temperate climate in the 20(th) century. Climate change projections suggest that climate in this area will shift towards warmer temperatures by the end of the 21(st) century, while projected precipitation changes are highly uncertain. Here we show that the 2015 summer rainfall was the lowest on record since 1901 in Central Europe, and that climate models that perform best in the three driest years of the historical time period 1901-2015 project stronger drying trends in the 21(st) century than models that perform best in the remaining years. Analyses of precipitation and derived soil moisture reveal that the 2015 event was drier than both the recent 2003 or 2010 extreme summers in Central Europe. Additionally there are large anomalies in satellite-derived vegetation greenness. In terms of precipitation and temperature anomalies, the 2015 summer in Central Europe is found to lie between historical climate in the region and that characteristic of the Mediterranean area. Even though the models best capturing past droughts are not necessarily generally more reliable in the future, the 2015 drought event illustrates that potential future drying trends have severe implications and could be stronger than commonly assumed from the entire IPCC AR5 model ensemble.
Project description:The American Southwest has experienced a series of severe droughts interspersed with strong wet episodes over the past decades, prompting questions about future climate patterns and potential intensification of weather disruptions under warming conditions. Here we show that interannual hydroclimatic variability in this region has displayed a significant level of non-stationarity over the past millennium. Our tree ring-based analysis of past drought indicates that the Little Ice Age (LIA) experienced high interannual hydroclimatic variability, similar to projections for the 21st century. This is contrary to the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA), which had reduced variability and therefore may be misleading as an analog for 21st century warming, notwithstanding its warm (and arid) conditions. Given past non-stationarity, and particularly erratic LIA, a 'warm LIA' climate scenario for the coming century that combines high precipitation variability (similar to LIA conditions) with warm and dry conditions (similar to MCA conditions) represents a plausible situation that is supported by recent climate simulations. Our comparison of tree ring-based drought analysis and records from the tropical Pacific Ocean suggests that changing variability in El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) explains much of the contrasting variances between the MCA and LIA conditions across the American Southwest. Greater ENSO variability for the 21st century could be induced by a decrease in meridional sea surface temperature gradient caused by increased greenhouse gas concentration, as shown by several recent climate modeling experiments. Overall, these results coupled with the paleo-record suggests that using the erratic LIA conditions as benchmarks for past hydroclimatic variability can be useful for developing future water-resource management and drought and flood hazard mitigation strategies in the Southwest.
Project description:A key feature of anticipated 21st century droughts in Southwest North America is the concurrence of elevated temperatures and increased aridity. Instrumental records and paleoclimatic evidence for past prolonged drought in the Southwest that coincide with elevated temperatures can be assessed to provide insights on temperature-drought relations and to develop worst-case scenarios for the future. In particular, during the medieval period, ?AD 900-1300, the Northern Hemisphere experienced temperatures warmer than all but the most recent decades. Paleoclimatic and model data indicate increased temperatures in western North America of approximately 1 °C over the long-term mean. This was a period of extensive and persistent aridity over western North America. Paleoclimatic evidence suggests drought in the mid-12th century far exceeded the severity, duration, and extent of subsequent droughts. The driest decade of this drought was anomalously warm, though not as warm as the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The convergence of prolonged warming and arid conditions suggests the mid-12th century may serve as a conservative analogue for severe droughts that might occur in the future. The severity, extent, and persistence of the 12th century drought that occurred under natural climate variability, have important implications for water resource management. The causes of past and future drought will not be identical but warm droughts, inferred from paleoclimatic records, demonstrate the plausibility of extensive, severe droughts, provide a long-term perspective on the ongoing drought conditions in the Southwest, and suggest the need for regional sustainability planning for the future.
Project description:Although many studies have associated the demise of complex societies with deteriorating climate, few have investigated the connection between an ameliorating environment, surplus resources, energy, and the rise of empires. The 13th-century Mongol Empire was the largest contiguous land empire in world history. Although drought has been proposed as one factor that spurred these conquests, no high-resolution moisture data are available during the rapid development of the Mongol Empire. Here we present a 1,112-y tree-ring reconstruction of warm-season water balance derived from Siberian pine (Pinus sibirica) trees in central Mongolia. Our reconstruction accounts for 56% of the variability in the regional water balance and is significantly correlated with steppe productivity across central Mongolia. In combination with a gridded temperature reconstruction, our results indicate that the regional climate during the conquests of Chinggis Khan's (Genghis Khan's) 13th-century Mongol Empire was warm and persistently wet. This period, characterized by 15 consecutive years of above-average moisture in central Mongolia and coinciding with the rise of Chinggis Khan, is unprecedented over the last 1,112 y. We propose that these climate conditions promoted high grassland productivity and favored the formation of Mongol political and military power. Tree-ring and meteorological data also suggest that the early 21st-century drought in central Mongolia was the hottest drought in the last 1,112 y, consistent with projections of warming over Inner Asia. Future warming may overwhelm increases in precipitation leading to similar heat droughts, with potentially severe consequences for modern Mongolia.
Project description:Warming-induced drought has widely affected forest dynamics in most places of the northern hemisphere. In this study, we assessed how climate warming has affected Picea crassifolia (Qinghai spruce) forests using tree growth-climate relationships and the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) along the Qilian Mountains, northeastern Tibet Plateau (the main range of Picea crassifolia). Based on the analysis on trees radial growth data from the upper tree line and the regional NDVI data, we identified a pervasive growth decline in recent decades, most likely caused by warming-induced droughts. The drought stress on Picea crassifolia radial growth were expanding from northeast to southwest and the favorable moisture conditions for tree growth were retreating along the identical direction in the study area over the last half century. Compared to the historical drought stress on tree radial growth in the 1920s, recent warming-induced droughts display a longer-lasting stress with a broader spatial distribution on regional forest growth. If the recent warming continues without the effective moisture increasing, then a notable challenge is developed for Picea crassifolia in the Qilian Mountains. Elaborate forest management is necessary to counteract the future risk of climate change effects in this region.
Project description:California has experienced a dry 21(st) century capped by severe drought from 2012 through 2015 prompting questions about hydroclimatic sensitivity to anthropogenic climate change and implications for the future. We address these questions using a Holocene lake sediment record of hydrologic change from the Sierra Nevada Mountains coupled with marine sediment records from the Pacific. These data provide evidence of a persistent relationship between past climate warming, Pacific sea surface temperature (SST) shifts and centennial to millennial episodes of California aridity. The link is most evident during the thermal-maximum of the mid-Holocene (~8 to 3?ka; ka = 1,000 calendar years before present) and during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) (~1?ka to 0.7?ka). In both cases, climate warming corresponded with cooling of the eastern tropical Pacific despite differences in the factors producing increased radiative forcing. The magnitude of prolonged eastern Pacific cooling was modest, similar to observed La Niña excursions of 1(o) to 2?°C. Given differences with current radiative forcing it remains uncertain if the Pacific will react in a similar manner in the 21st century, but should it follow apparent past behavior more intense and prolonged aridity in California would result.