A Cooler Pacific May Have Severely Affected Medieval Europe, North America





In the time before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a cooler central Pacific Ocean has been connected with drought conditions in Europe and North America that may be responsible for famines and the disappearance of cliff dwelling people in the American West.

A new study from the University of Miami (UM) has found a connection between La NiƱa-like sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific and droughts in western Europe and in what later became the southwestern United States and Mexico, as published in a recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

Using cores of fossil coral from the Palmyra Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean, Burgman and a team used reconstructed sea surface temperatures from the period 1320 to 1462 to simulate medieval climate conditions with a state-of-the-art climate model. When the differences between medieval and modern climate simulations were compared with paleo-records like tree-rings and sediment cores from around the globe, the authors found remarkable agreement.

During the 142-year study period, the sea surface temperature dropped only one-tenth of one degree, but it was enough to cause arid conditions in North America and Europe.

The Anastazi people -- who lived in dramatic cliff dwellings near what later became known as the "Four Corners" area at the intersection of the state of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona -- left their settlements at Mesa Verde and other locations some 600 years ago without explanation. A prolonged drought is thought to be one of the contributing factors to their departure....


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