Megadroughts in Southwestern North America in ECHO-G millennial simulations and their comparison to proxy drought reconstructions

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Simulated hydroclimate variability in millennium-length forced transient and control simulations from the ECHAM and the global Hamburg Ocean Primitive Equation (ECHO-G) coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation model (AOGCM) is analyzed and compared to 1000 years of reconstructed Palmer drought severity index (PDSI) variability from the North American Drought Atlas (NADA). The ability of the model to simulate megadroughts in the North American southwest is evaluated. (NASW: 25º-42.5ºN, 125º-105ºW). Megadroughts in the ECHO-G AOGCM are found to be similar in duration and magnitude to those estimated from the NADA. The droughts in the forced simulation are not, however, temporally synchronous with those in the paleoclimate record, nor are there significant differences between the drought features simulated in the forced and control runs. These results indicate that model-simulated megadroughts can result from internal variability of the modeled climate system rather than as a response to changes in exogenous forcings. Although the ECHO-G AOGCM is capable of simulating megadroughts through persistent La Nina-like conditions in the tropical Pacific, other mechanisms can produce similarly extreme NASW moisture anomalies in the model. In particular, the lack of low-frequency coherence between NASW soil moisture and simulated modes of climate variability like the El Nino-Southern Oscillation, Pacific decadal oscillation, and Atlantic multidecadal oscillation during identified drought periods suggests that stochastic atmospheric variability can contribute significantly to the occurrence of simulated megadroughts in the NASW. These findings indicate that either an expanded paradigm is needed to understand multidecadal hydroclimate variability in the NASW or AOGCMs may incorrectly simulate the strength and/or dynamics of the connection between NASW hydroclimate variability and the tropical Pacific.
© 2013 American Meteorological Society. SC, JES, and RS are supported by the NOAA Award Global Decadal Hydroclimate Variability and Change (NA10OAR431037). RS was also supported by NSF Award ATM09-02716 and NOAA Award NA08-OAR4320912. BIC was supported by the NSF Award North American Megadroughts: Atmosphere-Ocean Forcing and Landscape Response from the Medieval Period to the Near-Term Greenhouse Future (ATM-0902716). JFGR was supported by MMAMRM-200800050084028//200800050083542, MCIN-CGL2008-06558-C02-01, and UCM/921407. Cross-wavelet and wavelet coherence software was provided by A. Grinsted.
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