New Drought Atlas Maps 2000 Years of Climate History in Europe

First Posted: Nov 09, 2015 08:52 AM EST

Scientists are getting a more in depth look at climate change in Europe. A new drought atlas maps more than 2,000 years of climate history.

Together with two previous drought atlases covering North America and Asia, the Old World Drought Atlas significantly adds to the historical picture of long-term climate variability over the Northern Hemisphere. In so doing, it should help climate scientists pinpoint causes of drought and extreme rainfall in the past, and identify patterns that could lead to better climate model projections for the future.

"The Old World Drought Atlas fills a major geographic gap in the data that's important to determine patterns of climate variability back in time," said Edward Cook, one of the researchers, in a news release. "That's important for understanding causes of megadroughts, and it's important for climate modelers to test hypotheses of climate forcing and change."

The atlases together show persistently drier-than-average conditions across north-central Europe over the past 1,000 years. There's also a history of megadroughts in the Northern Hemisphere that lasted longer during the Medieval Climate Anomaly than they did during the 20th century. However, there is little understanding as to why. Climate models have had difficulty reproducing megadroughts of the past, indicating something may be missing in their representation of the climate system.

The fact that the drought atlases provide a nearly hemispheric view of hydroclimate variability provides an incredible amount of information that can be used to better understand what was happening in the atmosphere and ocean," said Sloan Coats, one of the researchers.

The new atlas may help shed light on more recent phenomena, such as a record 2006 to 2010 drought in the Levant.

The findings are published in the journal Science Advances.

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