The severe and prolonged drought that beset North America in the 12th century likely caused the collapse of the Ancestral Puebloan and some other civilizations on the continent. Given that no megadroughts of comparable magnitude have yet recurred, evaluating their likelihood is challenging as well as prudent. Rare events can arise either from purely statistical fluctuations or as the result of rare exogenous events, such as a prolonged yet transient uptick in solar activity. Toby Ault of Cornell University and his collaborators set out to determine the causes of megadroughts using a so-called linear inversion model (LIM), which presumes that a system’s dynamics consist of a linear deterministic component and a nonlinear component of random fluctuations. Feeding the LIM with data yields the two components. Recent, well-sampled measurements of Earth’s sea-surface temperatures and other climate variables can be used to investigate past climates—provided the underlying dynamics have remained the same....
Charles Day; What causes megadroughts?. Physics Today 1 February 2018; 71 (2): 24. https://doi.org/10.1063/PT.3.3841
Download citation file:
Purchase an annual subscription for $25. A subscription grants you access to all of Physics Today's current and backfile content.