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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 17, 2023
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2022
  3. Abstract

    Escalating burned area in western US forests punctuated by the 2020 fire season has heightened the need to explore near-term macroscale forest-fire area trajectories. As fires remove fuels for subsequent fires, feedbacks may impose constraints on the otherwise climate-driven trend of increasing forest-fire area. Here, we test how fire-fuel feedbacks moderate near-term (2021–2050) climate-driven increases in forest-fire area across the western US. Assuming constant fuels, climate–fire models project a doubling of  forest-fire area compared to 1991–2020. Fire-fuel feedbacks only modestly attenuate the projected increase in forest-fire area. Even models with strong feedbacks project increasing interannual variability in forest-fire areamore »and more than a two-fold increase in the likelihood of years exceeding the 2020 fire season. Fuel limitations from fire-fuel feedbacks are unlikely to strongly constrain the profound climate-driven broad-scale increases in forest-fire area by the mid-21st century, highlighting the need for proactive adaptation to increased western US forest-fire impacts.

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  4. Abstract

    Instrumental records indicate a century-long trend towards drying over western North America and wetting over eastern North America. A continuation of these trends into the future would have significant hydroclimatic and socioeconomic consequences in both the semi-arid Southwest and humid East. Using tree-ring reconstructions and hydrologic simulations of summer soil moisture, we evaluate and contextualize the modern summer aridity gradient within its natural range of variability established over the past 600 years and evaluate the effects of observed and anthropogenic precipitation, temperature, and humidity trends. The 2001–2020 positive (wet east-dry west) aridity gradient was larger than any 20 yearmore »period since 1400 CE, preceded by the most negative (wet west-dry east) aridity gradient during 1976–1995, leading to a strong multi-decade reversal in aridity gradient anomalies that was rivaled only by a similar event in the late-16th century. The 2001–2020 aridity gradient was dominated by long-term summer precipitation increases in the Midwest and Northeast, with smaller contributions from more warming in the West than the East and spring precipitation decreases in the Southwest. Multi-model mean climate simulations from Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 6 experiments suggest anthropogenic climate trends should not have strongly affected the aridity gradient thus far. However, there is high uncertainty due to inter-model disagreement on anthropogenic precipitation trends. The recent strengthening of the observed aridity gradient, its increasing dependence on precipitation variability, and disagreement in modeled anthropogenic precipitation trends reveal significant uncertainties in how water resource availability will change across North America in the coming decades.

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  5. Abstract Southeastern South America (SESA; encompassing Paraguay, Southern Brazil, Uruguay, and northern Argentina) experienced a 27% increase in austral summer precipitation from 1902-2019, one of the largest observed trends in seasonal precipitation globally. Previous research identifies Atlantic Multidecadal Variability and anthropogenic forcing from stratospheric ozone depletion and greenhouse gas emissions as key factors contributing to the positive precipitation trends in SESA. We analyze multi-model ensemble simulations from Phases 5 and 6 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) and find that not only do Earth System Models simulate positive SESA precipitation trends that are much weaker over the historical interval,more »but some models persistently simulate negative SESA precipitation trends under historical forcings. Similarly, 16-member ensembles from two atmospheric models forced with observed historical sea surface temperatures never simulate precipitation trends that even reach the lower bound of the observed trend’s range of uncertainty. Moreover, while future 21 st -century projections from CMIP6 yield positive ensemble mean precipitation trends over SESA that grow with increasing greenhouse-gas emissions, the mean forced response never exceeds the observed historical trend. Pre-industrial control runs from CMIP6 indicate that some models do occasionally simulate centennial-scale trends in SESA that fall within the observational range, but most models do not. Results point to significant uncertainties in the attribution of anthropogenically forced influences on the observed increases in precipitation over SESA, while also suggesting that internal decadal-to-centennial variability of unknown origin and not present in state-of-the-art models may have also played a large role in generating the 20 th -21 st -century SESA precipitation trend.« less
  6. Extreme precipitation and consequent floods are some of California's most damaging natural disasters, but they are also critical to the state's water supply. This motivates the need to better understand the long-term variability of these events across the region. This study examines the possibility of reconstructing extreme precipitation occurrences in the Sacramento River Watershed (SRW) of Northern California using a network of tree-ring based moisture proxies across the Western US. We first develop a gridded reconstruction of the cold-season standardized precipitation index (SPI) west of 100°W. We then develop an annual index of regional extreme precipitation occurrences in the SRWmore »and use elastic net regression to relate that index to the gridded, tree-ring based SPI. These regressions, built using SPI data across the SRW only and again across a broader region of the Western US, are used to develop reconstructions of interannual variability in extreme precipitation frequency back to 1400 CE. The SPI reconstruction is skillful across much of the West, including the Sacramento Valley and Central Oregon. The reconstructed SPI also captures historical interannual variations in extreme SRW precipitation, although individual events may be under- or over-estimated. The reconstructions show more SRW extremes from 1580 to 1700 and 1850 to 1915, a dearth of extremes prior to 1550, and a 2–8 year oscillation after 1550. Using tree-ring proxies beyond the SRW often dampens the reconstructed extremes, but these data occasionally help to identify known extreme events. Overall, reconstructions of SRW extreme precipitation can help to understand better the historic variability of these events.« less
  7. Abstract Droughts that span the states of Washington, Oregon, and California are rare but devastating due to their large spatial coverage and potential loss of redundancies in water, agricultural, and fire-fighting resources. Such pan-coastal droughts [which we define using boreal summer volumetric soil moisture along the U.S. Pacific coast (32°–50°N, 115°–127°W)] require a more precise understanding of the roles played by the Pacific Ocean and internal atmospheric variability. We employ 16-member ensembles of the Community Atmosphere Model version 5 and Community Climate Model version 3 forced with observed sea surface temperatures (SSTs) from 1856 to 2012 to separate and quantifymore »the influences of the tropical Pacific and internal atmospheric variability on pan-coastal droughts; all other boundary conditions are kept at climatological levels to explicitly isolate for the impacts of SST changes. Internal atmospheric variability is the dominant driver of pan-coastal droughts, accounting for 84% of their severity, and can reliably generate pan-coastal droughts even when ocean conditions do not favor drought. Cold phases of the Pacific Ocean play a secondary role and contribute, on average, only 16% to pan-coastal drought severity. Spatiotemporal analyses of precipitation and soil moisture along the U.S. Pacific coast corroborate these findings and identify an antiphased wet–dry dipole pattern induced by the Pacific to play a more secondary role. Our model framework expands on previous observational analyses that point to the spatially uniform forcing of internal atmospheric variability as the more dominant mode of hydroclimate variability along the U.S. Pacific coast. The secondary nature of oceanic forcing suggests limited predictability of pan-continental droughts.« less