Droughts, epic droughts and droughty centuries - lessons from a California paleoclimatic record: a PACLIM 2001 meeting report

Interagency Ecological Program Newsletter



During the early 1990s (but echoing studies by S.T. Harding at the University of California, from as early as the 1930s), several lines of paleoclimate evidence in and around the Sierra Nevada Range have provided the water community in California with some real horror stories. By studying ancient tree stumps submerged in Lake Tahoe and Tenaya Lake, stumps that were emerging from Mono Lake during its recent decline, and stumps that were exhumed in the Walker River bed during the floods of 1997, paleoclimatologists like Scott Stine of California State University, Hayward, assembled a picture of epic droughts in the central Sierra Nevada during the medieval period. These droughts had to be severe to drop water levels in the lakes and rivers low enough for the trees to grow in the first place, and then had to last for hundreds of years to explain tree-ring counts in these sizeable stumps. Worse yet, the evidence suggested at least two such epic droughts, one ending close to 1100 and the other close to 1350. These epic droughts challenged paleoclimatologists, as well as modern climatologists and hydrologists, to understand and, ultimately, to determine the likelihood that such droughts might recur in the foreseeable future. The first challenge, however, was to verify that such droughts were more than local events and as extreme as suggested. At this year’s Pacific Climate (PACLIM) Workshop, held March 18–21, 2001, at Asilomar (Pacific Grove, Calif.), special sessions brought together scientists to compare paleoclimatic reconstructions of ancient droughts and pluvial (wet) epidodes to try to determine the nature of decadal and centennial climate fluctuations in western North America, with emphasis on California. A companion session brought together modern climatologists to report on the latest explanations (and evidence) for decadal climate variations during the instrumental era of the 20th century.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Droughts, epic droughts and droughty centuries - lessons from a California paleoclimatic record: a PACLIM 2001 meeting report
Series title Interagency Ecological Program Newsletter
Volume 14
Issue 3
Year Published 2001
Language English
Publisher Interagency
Contributing office(s) San Francisco Bay-Delta, Pacific Regional Director's Office
Description 3 p.
First page 51
Last page 53
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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