Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

2,300-year climate record suggests severe tropical droughts as northern temperatures rise

Date:
May 12, 2011
Source:
University of Pittsburgh
Summary:
A 2,300-year climate record that researchers recovered from an Andes Mountains lake reveals that as temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere rise, the planet's densely populated tropical regions will most likely experience severe water shortages as the crucial summer monsoons become drier. The research team found that equatorial regions of South America already are receiving less rainfall than at any point in the past millennium.

The study compared the record in the Pumacocha sediment core (PC) to various geological records from South America -- Cascayunga Cave (CC), the Quelccaya ice Cap (QIC), and the Cariaco Basin (CB) -- as well as the annual position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ).
Credit: U. of Pittsburgh

A 2,300-year climate record University of Pittsburgh researchers recovered from an Andes Mountains lake reveals that as temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere rise, the planet's densely populated tropical regions will most likely experience severe water shortages as the crucial summer monsoons become drier. The Pitt team found that equatorial regions of South America already are receiving less rainfall than at any point in the past millennium.

Related Articles


The researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that a nearly 6-foot-long sediment core from Laguna Pumacocha in Peru contains the most detailed geochemical record of tropical climate fluctuations yet uncovered. The core shows pronounced dry and wet phases of the South American summer monsoons and corresponds with existing geological data of precipitation changes in the surrounding regions.

Paired with these sources, the sediment record illustrated that rainfall during the South American summer monsoon has dropped sharply since 1900 -- exhibiting the greatest shift in precipitation since around 300 BCE -- while the Northern Hemisphere has experienced warmer temperatures.

Study coauthor Mark Abbott, a professor of geology and planetary science in Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences who also codesigned the project, said that he and his colleagues did not anticipate the rapid decrease in 20th-century rainfall that they observed. Abbott worked with lead author and recent Pitt graduate Broxton Bird; Don Rodbell, study codesigner and a geology professor at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.; recent Pitt graduate Nathan Stansell; Pitt professor of geology and planetary science Mike Rosenmeier; and Mathias Vuille, a professor of atmospheric and environmental science at the State University of New York at Albany. Both Bird and Stansell received their PhD degrees in geology from Pitt in 2009.

"This model suggests that tropical regions are dry to a point we would not have predicted," Abbott said. "If the monsoons that are so critical to the water supply in tropical areas continue to diminish at this pace, it will have devastating implications for the water resources of a huge swath of the planet."

The sediment core shows regular fluctuations in rainfall from 300 BCE to 900 CE, with notably heavy precipitation around 550. Beginning in 900, however, a severe drought set in for the next three centuries, with the driest period falling between 1000 and 1040. This period correlates with the well-known demise of regional Native American populations, Abbott explained, including the Tiwanaku and Wari that inhabited present-day Boliva, Chile, and Peru.

After 1300, monsoons increasingly drenched the South American tropics. The wettest period of the past 2,300 years lasted from roughly 1500 to the 1750s during the time span known as the Little Ice Age, a period of cooler global temperatures. Around 1820, a dry cycle crept in briefly, but quickly gave way to a wet phase before the rain began waning again in 1900. By July 2007, when the sediment core was collected, there had been a steep, steady increase in dry conditions to a high point not surpassed since 1000.

To create a climate record from the sediment core, the team analyzed the ratio of the oxygen isotope delta-O-18 in each annual layer of lake-bed mud. This ratio has a negative relationship with rainfall: Levels of delta-O-18 are low during the wetter seasons and high when monsoon rain is light. The team found that the rainfall history suggested by the lake core matched that established by delta-O-18 analyses from Cascayunga Cave in the Peruvian lowlands and the Quelccaya Ice Cap located high in the Andes. The Pumacocha core followed the climatological narrative of these sources between the years 980 and 2006, but provided much more detail, Abbott said.

The team then established a connection between rainfall and Northern Hemisphere temperatures by comparing their core to the movement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), a balmy strip of thunderstorms near the equator where winds from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres meet. Abbott and his colleagues concluded that warm Northern temperatures such as those currently recorded lure the ITCZ -- the main source of monsoons -- north and ultimately reduce the rainfall on which tropical areas rely.

The historical presence of the ITCZ has been gauged by measuring the titanium concentrations of sea sediment, according to the PNAS report. High levels of titanium in the Cariaco Basin north of Venezuela show that the ITCZ lingered in the upper climes at the same time the South American monsoon was at its driest, between 900 and 1100. On the other hand, the wettest period at Pumacocha -- between 1400 and 1820, which coincided with the Little Ice Age -- correlates with the ITCZ's sojourn to far south of the equator as Northern Hemisphere temperatures cooled.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Pittsburgh. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. B. W. Bird, M. B. Abbott, M. Vuille, D. T. Rodbell, N. D. Stansell, M. F. Rosenmeier. A 2,300-year-long annually resolved record of the South American summer monsoon from the Peruvian Andes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1003719108

Cite This Page:

University of Pittsburgh. "2,300-year climate record suggests severe tropical droughts as northern temperatures rise." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110511131132.htm>.
University of Pittsburgh. (2011, May 12). 2,300-year climate record suggests severe tropical droughts as northern temperatures rise. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110511131132.htm
University of Pittsburgh. "2,300-year climate record suggests severe tropical droughts as northern temperatures rise." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110511131132.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, October 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

Newsy (Oct. 30, 2014) A frog noticed by a conservationist on New York's Staten Island has been confirmed as a new species after extensive study and genetic testing. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Hawaii Lava Approaching Village Road

Raw: Hawaii Lava Approaching Village Road

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) The lava flow on the Big Island of Hawaii was 225 yards from Pahoa Village Road on Wednesday night. The lava is slowing down but still approaching the village. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Endangered Carpathian Ponies Are Making a Comeback in Poland

Endangered Carpathian Ponies Are Making a Comeback in Poland

AFP (Oct. 29, 2014) At the foot of the rugged Carpathian mountains near the Polish-Ukrainian border, ranchers and scientists are trying to protect the Carpathian pony, known as the Hucul in Polish. Duration: 02:17 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deadly Mudslide in Sri Lanka Buries Houses

Deadly Mudslide in Sri Lanka Buries Houses

AP (Oct. 29, 2014) A mudslide triggered by monsoon rains buried scores of workers' houses at a tea plantation in central Sri Lanka on Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and leaving more than 250 missing, an official said. (Oct. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins