Drought: A Paleo Perspective
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The Data

Instrumental records of drought for the United States extend back approximately 100 years. These records capture the major 20th century droughts, but are too short to assess the reoccurrence of major droughts such as those of the 1930s and 1950s. As droughts continue to have increasingly costly and devastating impacts on our society, economy and environment, it is becoming even more important to put the severe droughts of the 20th century into a long-term perspective. This perspective can be gained through the use of paleoclimatic records of drought.

Scientists have developed paleoclimatic records of drought from a variety of types of proxy data that span the past hundreds to tens of thousands of years, and longer. These records demonstrate patterns of natural drought variability and allow us to compare 20th century droughts with those of the past. These records can also be examined in light of what we know about the circulation features that are important to drought today, such as ENSO . Research using both paleoclimatic records of drought and circulation features can determine how slowly changing climate conditions may influence periods of long or more frequent droughts.

The sections below highlight some of the data and studies for four catagories of time, beginning with the 20th century instrumental record of drought, and ending with paleoclimatic records of drought more than two thousand years ago. These studies have yielded much information about climate and drought conditions of the past and demonstrate the usefulness and importance of paleoclimate data.

On to... A Final Word .