Climate Dynamics

, Volume 39, Issue 6, pp 1431–1446 | Cite as

Pacific and Atlantic influences on Mesoamerican climate over the past millennium

  • D. W. StahleEmail author
  • D. J. Burnette
  • J. Villanueva Diaz
  • R. R. HeimJr.
  • F. K. Fye
  • J. Cerano Paredes
  • R. Acuna Soto
  • M. K. Cleaveland


A new tree-ring reconstruction of the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) for Mesoamerica from AD 771 to 2008 identifies megadroughts more severe and sustained than any witnessed during the twentieth century. Correlation analyses indicate strong forcing of instrumental and reconstructed June PDSI over Mesoamerica from the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Spectral analyses of the 1,238-year reconstruction indicate significant concentrations of variance at ENSO, sub-decadal, bi-decadal, and multidecadal timescales. Instrumental and model-based analyses indicate that the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation is important to warm season climate variability over Mexico. Ocean-atmospheric variability in the Atlantic is not strongly correlated with the June PDSI reconstruction during the instrumental era, but may be responsible for the strong multidecadal variance detected in the reconstruction episodically over the past millennium. June drought indices in Mesoamerica are negatively correlated with gridded June PDSI over the United States from 1950 to 2005, based on both instrumental and reconstructed data. Interannual variability in this latitudinal moisture gradient is due in part to ENSO forcing, where warm events favor wet June PDSI conditions over the southern US and northern Mexico, but dryness over central and southern Mexico (Mesoamerica). Strong anti-phasing between multidecadal regimes of tree-ring reconstructed June PDSI over Mesoamerica and reconstructed summer (JJA) PDSI over the Southwest has also been detected episodically over the past millennium, including the 1950–1960s when La Niña and warm Atlantic SSTs prevailed, and the 1980–1990s when El Niño and cold Atlantic SSTs prevailed. Several Mesoamerican megadroughts are reconstructed when wetness prevailed over the Southwest, including the early tenth century Terminal Classic Drought, implicating El Niño and Atlantic SSTs in this intense and widespread drought that may have contributed to social changes in ancient Mexico.


Mesoamerica Montezuma baldcypress Tree rings PDSI ENSO 



Research support to the University of Arkansas from the NSF Paleoclimatology Program (ATM-0753399) and to INIFAP from the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (CRN II 2047, US NSF GEO-0452325). We thank E.R. Cook for the gridded PDSI reconstructions for North America and contributors to the International Tree-Ring Data Bank, NOAA Paleoclimatology Program for the tree-ring data used in the North American reconstructions. We also thank H. Suzan, Claudia Rodriguez, M.D. Therrell, D.K. Stahle, and three anonymous reviewers for assistance and comments that improved this research. All data available at: and


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. W. Stahle
    • 1
    Email author
  • D. J. Burnette
    • 1
  • J. Villanueva Diaz
    • 2
  • R. R. HeimJr.
    • 3
  • F. K. Fye
    • 1
  • J. Cerano Paredes
    • 2
  • R. Acuna Soto
    • 4
  • M. K. Cleaveland
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesUniversity of ArkansasFayettevilleUSA
  2. 2.Laboratorio de DendrocronologiaInstituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agricolas, y PecuariasGomez PalacioMexico
  3. 3.National Climatic Data CenterNOAAAshevilleUSA
  4. 4.Departamento Microbiologia y ParastologiaUNAMMexicoMexico

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