Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of



Multidecadal Drought and Holocene Climate Instability in the Rocky Mountains

Date of this Version



Link goes to Geology May, 2006, v. 34, p. 409-412, which requires subscription access. Copyright 2006 Geological Society of America, which does not permit inclusion in this repository.


Time series analysis of a diatom-inferred drought record suggests that Holocene hydroclimate of the northern Rocky Mountains has been characterized by oscillation between two mean climate states. The dominant climate state was initiated at the onset of the Holocene (ca. 11 ka); under this climate state, drought was strongly cyclic, recurring at frequencies that are similar to twentieth century multidecadal phase changes of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. This pattern remained consistent throughout much of the mid- Holocene, continuing until ca. 4.5 ka. After this time the mean climate state changed, and drought recurrence became unstable; periods of cyclic drought alternated with periods of less predictable drought. The timing of this shift in climate was coincident with widespread severe drought in the mid-continent of North America. Overall, the strongest periodicity in severe drought occurred during the mid-Holocene, when temperatures in the northern Rocky Mountains were warmer than today.