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  1. Abstract

    The history of the Polynesian civilization on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) over the Common Era has come to exemplify the fragile relationship humans have with their environment. Social dynamics, deforestation, land degradation, and climatic shifts have all been proposed as important parts of the settlement history and societal transformations on Rapa Nui. Furthermore, climate dynamics of the Southeast Pacific have major global implications. While the wetlands of Rapa Nui contain critical sedimentological archives for reconstructing past hydrological change on the island, connections between the island’s hydroclimate and fundamental aspects of regional climatology are poorly understood. Here we present a hydroclimatology of Rapa Nui showing that there is a clear seasonal cycle of precipitation, with wet months receiving almost twice as much precipitation as dry months. This seasonal cycle can be explained by the seasonal shifts in the location and strength of the climatological south Pacific subtropical anticyclone. For interannual precipitation variability, we find that the occurrence of infrequent, large rain events explains 92% of the variance of the observed annual mean precipitation time series. Approximately one third (33%) of these events are associated with atmospheric rivers, 21% are associated with classic cold-front synoptic systems, and the remainder are characterized by cut-off lows and other synoptic-scale storm systems. As a group, these large rain events are most strongly controlled by the longitudinal position of the south Pacific subtropical anticyclone. The longitudinal location of this anticyclone explains 21% of the variance in the frequency of large rain events, while the remaining variance is left unexplained by any other major atmosphere-ocean dynamics. We find that over the observational era there appears to be no linear relationship between the number of large rain events and any other major climate phenomena. With the south Pacific subtropical anticyclone projected to strengthen and expand westward under global warming, our results imply that Rapa Nui will experience an increase in the number of dry years in the future.

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  2. Abstract

    The tropical response to explosive volcanism remains underconstrained in the paleoclimate record. While the atmosphere cools due to aerosol forcing following volcanic eruptions, modeling evidence suggests that the tropical Pacific responds with compensatory warming. Given the rarity of large volcanic eruptions and the short instrumental record, these modeling results require independent verification. Here, we test for links between volcanism and tropical Pacific dynamics using the newly developed Paleo Hydrodynamics Data Assimilation product (PHYDA), which spans the past 2,000 years. Using Pacific sea surface temperature fields from PHYDA and coincident volcanic eruptions, we test the response of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) to large, tropical volcanic eruptions. We identify a weak El Niño‐like response of the tropical Pacific in the year following sufficiently large, tropical volcanic eruptions. While the response is not significant at the 95% confidence level using superposed epoch analysis (SEA) and self‐organizing maps, a significant result does emerge when employing probability density functions. Our results indicate that the widely used SEA approach, based on composite averaging, may not be sufficiently sensitive to capture an ENSO response in the presence of large internal variability. We additionally conclude that inconsistencies in both the spatial patterns and magnitudes between climate models and PHYDA results indicate that current models overestimate the regional tropical response to volcanic forcing.

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  3. null (Ed.)
    Large tropical volcanic eruptions can affect the climate of many regions on Earth, yet it is uncertain how the largest eruptions over the past millennium may have altered Earth’s hydroclimate. Here, we analyze the global hydroclimatic response to all the tropical volcanic eruptions over the past millennium that were larger than the Mount Pinatubo eruption of 1991. Using the Paleo Hydrodynamics Data Assimilation product (PHYDA), we find that these large volcanic eruptions tended to produce dry conditions over tropical Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East and wet conditions over much of Oceania and the South American monsoon region. These anomalies are statistically significant, and they persisted for more than a decade in some regions. The persistence of the anomalies is associated with southward shifts in the Intertropical Convergence Zone and sea surface temperature changes in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. We compare the PHYDA results with the stand-alone model response of the Community Earth System Model (CESM)-Last Millennium Ensemble. We find that the proxy-constrained PHYDA estimates are larger and more persistent than the responses simulated by CESM. Understanding which of these estimates is more realistic is critical for accurately characterizing the hydroclimate risks of future volcanic eruptions. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
    Abstract. Changes in glacier length reflect the integrated response to local fluctuations in temperature and precipitation resulting from both external forcing (e.g., volcanic eruptions or anthropogenic CO2) and internal climate variability. In order to interpret the climate history reflected in the glacier moraine record, the influence of both sources of climate variability must therefore be considered. Here we study the last millennium of glacier-length variability across the globe using a simple dynamic glacier model, which we force with temperature and precipitation time series from a 13-member ensemble of simulations from a global climate model. The ensemble allows us to quantify the contributions to glacier-length variability from external forcing (given by the ensemble mean) and internal variability (given by the ensemble spread). Within this framework, we find that internal variability is the predominant source of length fluctuations for glaciers with a shorter response time (less than a few decades). However, for glaciers with longer response timescales (more than a few decades) external forcing has a greater influence than internal variability. We further find that external forcing also dominates when the response of glaciers from widely separated regions is averaged. Single-forcing simulations indicate that, for this climate model, most of the forced response over the last millennium, pre-anthropogenic warming, has been driven by global-scale temperature change associated with volcanic aerosols. 
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  5. null (Ed.)
    Abstract. The climate of the Southern Hemisphere (SH) is stronglyinfluenced by variations in the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) andthe Southern Annular Mode (SAM). Because of the limited length ofinstrumental records in most parts of the SH, very little is known about therelationship between these two key modes of variability over time. Usingproxy-based reconstructions and last-millennium climate model simulations,we find that ENSO and SAM indices are mostly negatively correlated over thepast millennium. Pseudo-proxy experiments indicate that currently availableproxy records are able to reliably capture ENSO–SAM relationships back to atleast 1600 CE. Palaeoclimate reconstructions show mostly negativecorrelations back to about 1400 CE. An ensemble of last-millennium climatemodel simulations confirms this negative correlation, showing a stablecorrelation of approximately −0.3. Despite this generally negativerelationship we do find intermittent periods of positive ENSO–SAMcorrelations in individual model simulations and in the palaeoclimatereconstructions. We do not find evidence that these relationshipfluctuations are caused by exogenous forcing nor by a consistent climatepattern. However, we do find evidence that strong negative correlations areassociated with strong positive (negative) anomalies in the InterdecadalPacific Oscillation and the Amundsen Sea Low during periods when SAM andENSO indices are of opposite (equal) sign. 
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  6. Multidecadal “megadroughts” were a notable feature of the climate of the American Southwest over the Common era, yet we still lack a comprehensive theory for what caused these megadroughts and why they curiously only occurred before about 1600 CE. Here, we use the Paleo Hydrodynamics Data Assimilation product, in conjunction with radiative forcing estimates, to demonstrate that megadroughts in the American Southwest were driven by unusually frequent and cold central tropical Pacific sea surface temperature (SST) excursions in conjunction with anomalously warm Atlantic SSTs and a locally positive radiative forcing. This assessment of past megadroughts provides the first comprehensive theory for the causes of megadroughts and their clustering particularly during the Medieval era. This work also provides the first paleoclimatic support for the prediction that the risk of American Southwest megadroughts will markedly increase with global warming. 
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  7. Abstract

    We examine oceanic drivers of widespread droughts over the contiguous United States (herein pan‐CONUS droughts) during the Common Era in what is one of the first analyses of the new Paleo Hydrodynamics Data Assimilation (PHYDA) product. The canonical understanding of oceanic influences on North American hydroclimate suggests that pan‐CONUS droughts are forced by a contemporaneous cold tropical Pacific Ocean and a warm tropical Atlantic Ocean. We test this hypothesis using the paleoclimate record. Composite analyses find a robust association between pan‐CONUS drought events and cold tropical Pacific conditions, but not with warm Atlantic conditions. Similarly, a self‐organizing map analysis shows that pan‐CONUS drought years are most commonly associated with a global sea surface temperature pattern displaying strong La Niña and cold Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) conditions. Our results confirm previous model‐based findings for the instrumental period and show that cold tropical Pacific Ocean conditions are the principal driver of pan‐CONUS droughts on annual timescales.

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