Climate Dynamics

, Volume 43, Issue 3–4, pp 845–859 | Cite as

Drought variability at the northern fringe of the Asian summer monsoon region over the past millennia

  • Bao YangEmail author
  • Shuyuan Kang
  • Fredrik Charpentier Ljungqvist
  • Minhui He
  • Yan Zhao
  • Chun Qin


The northern fringe of the Asian summer monsoon region (NASM) in China refers to the most northwestern extent of the Asian summer monsoon. Understanding the characteristics and underlying mechanisms of drought variability at long and short time-scales in the NASM region is of great importance, because present and future water shortages are of great concern. Here, we used newly developed and existing tree-ring, historical documentary and instrumental data available for the region to identify spatial and temporal patterns, and possible mechanisms of drought variability, over the past two millennia. We found that drought variations were roughly consistent in the western (the Qilian Mountains and Hexi Corridor) and eastern (the Great Bend of the Yellow River, referred to as GBYR) parts of the NASM on decadal to centennial timescales. We also identified the spatial extent of typical multi-decadal GBYR drought events based on historical dryness/wetness data and the Monsoon Asia Drought Atlas. It was found that the two periods of drought, in AD 1625–1644 and 1975–1999, exhibited similar patterns: specifically, a wet west and a dry east in the NASM. Spatial characteristics of wetness and dryness were also broadly similar over these two periods, such that when drought occurred in the Karakoram Mountains, western Tianshan Mountains, the Pamirs, Mongolia, most of East Asia, the eastern Himalayas and Southeast Asia, a wet climate dominated in most parts of the Indian subcontinent. We suggest that the warm temperature anomalies in the tropical Pacific might have been mainly responsible for the recent 1975–1999 drought. Possible causes of the drought of 1625–1644 were the combined effects of the weakened Asian summer monsoon and an associated southward shift of the Pacific Intertropical Convergence Zone. These changes occurred due to a combination of Tibetan Plateau cooling together with more general Northern Hemisphere cooling, rather than being solely due to changes in the sea surface temperature of the tropical Pacific. Our results provide a benchmark for comparing and validating paleo-simulations from general circulation model of the variability of the Asian summer monsoon at decadal to centennial timescales.


Tree rings Drought Palmer drought severity index The Asian summer monsoon Past climate change Regional climate dynamics 



The authors are grateful to the editor Jean-Claude Duplessy and the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. We thank Aslak Grinsted for providing the WTC software package. The study was jointly funded by the National Basic Research Program of China (No. 2010CB950104), the NSFC (Grant No. 41071130), Interdisciplinary Innovation Team project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (29Y329B91), and the CAS Strategic Priority Research Program Grant (No. XDA05080801). Bao Yang gratefully acknowledges support of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the K.C. Wong Education Foundation, Hong Kong.

Supplementary material

382_2013_1962_MOESM1_ESM.tif (1.2 mb)
Fig. S1 Spatial patterns of 4 typical extreme drought events identified over the northern fringe of the Asian summer monsoon region. Red indicates dry conditions, and green indicates wet conditions. (TIFF 1,261 kb)
382_2013_1962_MOESM2_ESM.tif (1.2 mb)
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Supplementary material 5 (JPEG 70 kb)
382_2013_1962_MOESM6_ESM.tif (5.3 mb)
Fig. S2 Comparison between the ENSO index (December–April MEI, Wolter and Timlin 2011) series (blue curve) and the PC1 (red curve) over the continental Asia derived from the two datasets of DWI and MADA over the period 1871–1999. Note that positive values of PC1 indicate drought and negative values wetness. (TIFF 5,377 kb)
382_2013_1962_MOESM7_ESM.tif (1.3 mb)
Fig. S3 The leading drought variability pattern EOF1 (a) over the continental Asia for the period 1470–1999 derived from the two datasets of DWI and MADA, and spatial correlation pattern (b) between the Emile-Geay et al. (2013b) ENSO index with the two drought datasets of DWI and MADA for the period 1470–1999. The correlation is statistically significant at the 0.10 level when the correlation coefficients are greater (lower) than 0.08 (–0.08). (TIFF 1,335 kb)
382_2013_1962_MOESM8_ESM.tif (1.3 mb)
Supplementary material 8 (TIFF 1,319 kb)
382_2013_1962_MOESM9_ESM.tif (114 kb)
Fig. S4 Wavelet analysis results of the PC1 over the continental Asia for the period 1470–1999 derived from the two datasets of DWI and MADA. (TIFF 113 kb)
382_2013_1962_MOESM10_ESM.tif (4.5 mb)
Fig. S5 Year-by-year spatial patterns of drought variability for three specific drought events recorded in Chinese historical documents over the past 500 years. Red indicates dry conditions and green denotes wet conditions. (TIFF 4,608 kb)
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Supplementary material 11 (GIFF 1,199 kb)
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bao Yang
    • 1
    Email author
  • Shuyuan Kang
    • 1
  • Fredrik Charpentier Ljungqvist
    • 2
  • Minhui He
    • 1
  • Yan Zhao
    • 3
  • Chun Qin
    • 1
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Desert and Desertification, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research InstituteChinese Academy of SciencesLanzhouChina
  2. 2.Department of HistoryStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  3. 3.Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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