Vegetation response to southern California drought during the Medieval Climate Anomaly and early Little Ice Age (AD 800–1600)

Quaternary International
By: , and 



High-resolution studies of pollen in laminated sediments deposited in Santa Barbara Basin (SBB) core SPR0901-02KC reflect decadal-scale fluctuations in precipitation spanning the interval from AD 800–1600. From AD 800–1090 during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) SBB sediments were dominated by xeric vegetation types (drought-resistant coastal sagebrush and chaparral) implying reduced precipitation in the southern California region. Drought-adapted vegetation abruptly decreased at AD 1090 and was rapidly replaced by mesic oak (Quercus) woodlands associated with an increased pollen flux into the basin. After a mesic interval lasting ∼100 years, pollen flux and the relative abundance of Quercus pollen dropped abruptly at AD 1200 when the rapid rise of chaparral suggests a significant drought similar to that of the MCA (∼AD 800–1090). This brief resurgence of drought-adapted vegetation between AD 1200–1270 marked the end of the MCA droughts. A gradual increase in mesic vegetation followed, characterizing cool hydroclimates of the Little Ice Age (LIA) in coastal southern California.

The presence of xeric vegetation in SBB coincides with major drought events recorded in tree rings and low lake levels elsewhere in California except for the brief drought between AD 1130–1160. Correlative diatom and terrigenous sediment input proxy records from SBB are largely supportive of the pollen record predominantly linking the MCA with drought and La Niña-like conditions and the LIA with wetter (more El Niño-like) conditions. Differences between paleoclimate proxies (pollen, diatoms, and terrigenous sediment) in SBB exist, however, possibly reflecting the temporal and spatial differences in the generation of each proxy record, as well as their individual sensitivity to climate change.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Vegetation response to southern California drought during the Medieval Climate Anomaly and early Little Ice Age (AD 800–1600)
Series title Quaternary International
DOI 10.1016/j.quaint.2014.09.032
Volume 387
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Volcano Science Center
Description 13 p.
First page 23
Last page 35
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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