US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Climatic Change (2007) 83: 187–213; DOI: 10.1007/s10584-006-9065-y


Severe droughts in the middle-12th and late-13th centuries appear to have affected Anasazi (pre-Columbian Native American) populations. During the first drought most of the great houses in the central San Juan Basin were vacated; the second drought resulted in the abandonment of the Four Corners region. During the first drought, villages may not have been completely abandoned. The multi-year drought periods probably were characterized by reductions in both winter and summer precipitation. Maize is dependent on winter precipitation for its germination and initial growth and on summer (monsoonal) precipitation for its continued growth. Reductions in precipitation are hypothesized to have resulted in low yields of maize, the dietary staple of the Anasazi. A comparison of historic climate data and tree-ring-based reconstructions of precipitation in the Four Corners region with tree-ring-based reconstructions of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) indicate that severe and persistent drought in the Four Corners region occurs when the PDO is negative and the AMO is positive. Historic climate data from the greater San Juan Basin indicate that a negative PDO is characterized by reductions in both water-year and summer precipitation, reinforcing the concept that at least some multi-year droughts involved weakening of the summer monsoon with attendant decreases in the yields of maize.