skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, May 23 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, May 24 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

This content will become publicly available on January 6, 2025

Title: A low-frequency summer temperature reconstruction for the United States Southwest, 3000 BC–AD 2000

Temperature variability likely played an important role in determining the spread and productive potential of North America’s key prehispanic agricultural staple, maize. The United States Southwest (SWUS) also served as the gateway for maize to reach portions of North America to the north and east. Existing temperature reconstructions for the SWUS are typically low in spatial or temporal resolution, shallow in time depth, or subject to unknown degrees of insensitivity to low-frequency variability, hindering accurate determination of temperature’s role in agricultural productivity and variability in distribution and success of prehispanic farmers. Here, we develop a model-based modern analog technique (MAT) approach applied to 29 SWUS fossil pollen sites to reconstruct July temperatures from 3000 BC to AD 2000. Temperatures were generally warmer than or similar to those of the modern (1961–1990) period until the first century AD. Our reconstruction also notes rapid warming beginning in the AD 1800s; modern conditions are unprecedented in at least the last five millennia in the SWUS. Temperature minima were reached around 1800 BC, 1000 BC, AD 400 (the global minimum in this series), the mid-to-late AD 900s, and the AD 1500s. Summer temperatures were generally depressed relative to northern hemisphere norms by a dominance of El Niño-like conditions during much of the second millenium BC and the first millenium AD, but somewhat elevated relative to those same norms in other periods, including from about AD 1300 to the present, due to the dominance of La Niña-like conditions.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
SAGE Publications
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Holocene
Medium: X Size: p. 451-466
["p. 451-466"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. The travertine-lined irrigation canal networks of the Tehuacán Valley, Mexico allowed pre-Hispanic indigenous communities to overcome risks of crop failures in an arid setting. Segments of these systems are still in use today, therefore understanding when and how these irrigation networks functioned allows us to identify which attributes of a coupled socio-hydrological system are important for maintaining the long-term resilience of irrigation systems in drylands. This paper summarizes the results of an interdisciplinary study of this prehispanic irrigation network involving mapping, radiometric dating, and diatom analyses of materials extracted from the travertine lined canals. All of the canal networks were functioning by ca. 2000 BC, at the transition from the Late Archaic to the Formative period, which is before archeological evidence for widespread community-level aggregation. Provocatively, some canals are potentially as old as 6000–4000 BC, which would mean that hunter-gatherers initiated irrigation coevally with the introduction of semi-domesticated maize, a tropical species which would require supplemental water in this arid context. The canals both facilitated agricultural intensification and enhanced the distribution of aquatic ecosystems. The resilience of these systems to their unique spring dependent context demanded frequent maintenance and the integration of multiple canal networks to mitigate geohydrological vulnerabilities of reduced discharge. These conditions set up a long-term reciprocal dynamic between people and water in the Tehuacán Valley. The results demonstrate that rigidities inherent to tightly coupled socio-hydrological systems in dryland settings were overcome by institutional arrangements first developed by indigenous communities deep in prehistory.

    more » « less
  2. The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a major source of interannual climate variability. ENSO life cycles and the associated teleconnections evolve over multiple years at a global scale. This analysis is the first attempt to characterize the structure of the risk posed by trans-Pacific ENSO teleconnections to crop production in the greater Pacific Basin region. In this analysis we identify the large-scale atmospheric dynamics of ENSO teleconnections that affect heat and moisture stress during the growing seasons of maize, wheat and soy. We propose a coherent framework for understanding how trans-Pacific ENSO teleconnections pose a correlated risk to crop yields in major agricultural belts of the Americas, Australia and China over the course of an ENSO life cycle by using observations and a multi-model ensemble of climate anomalies during crop flowering seasons. Trans-Pacific ENSO teleconnections are often (but not always) offsetting between major producing regions in the Americas and those in northern China or Australia. El Niños tend to create good maize and soybean growing conditions in the US and southeast South America, but poor growing conditions in northern China, southern Mexico and the Cerrado in Brazil. The opposite is true during La Niña. Wheat growing conditions in southeast South America generally have the opposite sign of those in Australia. Furthermore, multi-year La Niñas can force multi-year growing season anomalies in Argentina and Australia. Most ENSO teleconnections relevant for crop flowering seasons are the result of a single trans-Pacific circulation anomaly that develops in boreal summer and persists through the following spring. During the late summer and early fall of a developing ENSO event, the tropical Pacific forces an atmospheric anomaly in the northern midlatitudes that spans the Pacific from northern China to North America and in the southern midlatitudes from Australia to southeast South America. This anomaly directly links the soybean and maize growing seasons of the US, Mexico and China and the wheat growing seasons of Argentina, southern Brazil and Australia. The ENSO event peaks in boreal winter, when the atmospheric circulation anomalies intensify and affect maize and soybeans in southeast South America. As the event decays, the ENSO-induced circulation anomalies persist through the wheat flowering seasons in China and the US. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Substantial changes in terrestrial hydroclimate during the Holocene are recorded in geological archives and simulated by computer models. To identify spatial and temporal patterns during the past 12 ka, proxy records sensitive to changing precipitation and effective moisture (precipitation minus evaporation) were compiled from across the globe (n = 813). Proxy composite timeseries were computed for 30 of the IPCC AR6 regions and compared to two full‐Holocene transient model simulations (TraCE‐21ka and HadCM3) and twelve mid‐Holocene CMIP6 simulations. We find that throughout Northern Hemisphere monsoon regions, proxy and model simulations indicate wetter‐than‐modern conditions during the early and mid‐Holocene while Southern Hemisphere monsoon regions were drier. This insolation driven trend toward modern values began approximately 6,000 years ago, and the clear agreement among proxy records and models may reflect the large magnitude of precipitation change and consistent atmospheric circulation forcing mechanism for these regions. In the midlatitudes, the pattern of change is less certain. Generally, proxy composites show a wetting trend throughout the Holocene for the northern midlatitudes, possibly due to strengthening westerlies from an increasing latitudinal temperature gradient. However, simulations indicate that the magnitude of change was relatively low, and for portions of North America, there is a proxy‐model disagreement. At high latitudes, hydroclimate is positively correlated with temperature in both proxies and models, consistent with projected wetting as temperatures rise. Overall, this large proxy database reveals a coherent pattern of hydroclimate variability despite the challenges associated with reconstructing hydroclimate fields.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Accurate representation of crop responses to climate is critically important to understand impacts of climate change and variability in food systems. We use Random Forest (RF), a diagnostic machine learning tool, to explore the dependence of yield on climate and technology for maize, sorghum and soybean in the US plains. We analyze the period from 1980 to 2016 and use a panel of county yields and climate variables for the crop-specific developmental phases: establishment, critical window (yield potential definition) and grain filling. The RF models accounted for between 71% to 86% of the yield variance. Technology, evaluated through the time variable, accounted for approximately 20% of the yield variance and indicates that yields have steadily increased. Responses to climate confirm prior findings revealing threshold-like responses to high temperature (yield decrease sharply when maximum temperature exceed 29 °C and 30 °C for maize and soybean), and reveal a higher temperature tolerance for sorghum, whose yield decreases gradually as maximum temperature exceeds 32.5 °C. We found that sorghum and soybean responded positively to increases in cool minimum temperatures. Maize yield exhibited a unique and negative response to low atmospheric humidity during the critical phase that encompasses flowering, as well as a strong sensitivity to extreme temperature exposure. Using maize as a benchmark, we estimate that if warming continues unabated through the first half of the 21st century, the best climatic conditions for rainfed maize and soybean production may shift from Iowa and Illinois to Minnesota and the Dakotas with possible modulation by soil productivity.

    more » « less
  5. null (Ed.)
    The deep sea (>500 m ocean depth) is the largest global habitat, characterized by cool temperatures, low ambient light, and food-poor conditions relative to shallower waters. Deep-sea teleosts generally grow more slowly than those inhabiting shallow water. However, this is a generalization, and even amongst deep-sea teleosts, there is a broad continuum of growth rates. The importance of potential drivers of growth rate variability amongst deep-sea species, such as temperature, food availability, oxygen concentration, metabolic rate, and phylogeny, have yet to be fully evaluated. We present a meta-analysis in which age and size data were collected for 53 species of teleosts whose collective depth ranges span from surface waters to 4000 m. We calculated growth metrics using both calendar and thermal age, and compared them with environmental, ecological, and phylogenetic variables. Temperature alone explained up to 30% of variation in the von Bertalanffy growth coefficient ( K , yr -1 ), and 21% of the variation in the average annual increase in mass (AIM, %), a metric of growth prior to maturity. After correcting for temperature effects, depth was still a significant driver of growth, explaining up to 20 and 10% of the remaining variation in K and AIM, respectively. Oxygen concentration also explained ~11% of remaining variation in AIM following temperature correction. Relatively minor amounts of variation may be explained by food availability, phylogeny, and the locomotory mode of the teleosts. We also found strong correlation between growth and metabolic rate, which may be an underlying driver also related to temperature, depth, and other factors, or the 2 parameters may simply covary as a result of being linked by evolutionary pressures. Evaluating the influence of ecological and/or environmental drivers of growth is a vital step in understanding both the evolution of life history parameters across the depth continuum as well as their implications for species’ resilience to increasing anthropogenic stressors. 
    more » « less