, Volume 26, Issue 2-3, pp 243-269

A warm and wet little climatic optimum and a cold and dry little ice age in the southern rocky mountains, U.S.A.

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Abstract

The zenith of Anasazi Pueblo Indian occupation in the northern Colorado Plateau region of the southwestern U.S.A. coincides with the Little Climatic Optimum or Medieval Warm Period (A.D. 900–1300), and its demise coincides with the commencement of the Little Ice Age. Indexes of winter (jet-stream derived) and summer (monsoon derived) precipitation and growing season length were developed for the La Plata Mountains region of southwestern Colorado. The results show that during the height of the Little Climatic Optimum (A.D. 1000–1100) the region was characterized by a relatively long growing season and by a potential dry farming zone or elevational belt (currently located between 2,000 m and 2,300 m elevation) that was twice as wide as present and could support Anasazi upland dry farming down to at least 1,600 m, an elevation that is quite impossible to dry farm today because of insufficient soil moisture. This expanded dry-farm belt is attributable to a more vigorous circulation regime characterized by both greater winter and summer precipitation than that of today. Between A.D. 1100 and 1300 the potential dry-farm belt narrowed and finally disappeared with the onset of a period of markedly colder and drier conditions than currently exist. Finally, when the Little Ice Age terminated in the mid A.D. 1800s and warmer, wetter conditions returned to the region, another group of farmers (modern Anglos) were able to dry farm the area.

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