Climatic Change

, Volume 83, Issue 1–2, pp 151–168 | Cite as

Frequency and duration of historical droughts from the 16th to the 19th centuries in the Mexican Maya lands, Yucatan Peninsula

  • Blanca MendozaEmail author
  • Virginia García-Acosta
  • Victor Velasco
  • Ernesto Jáuregui
  • Rosa Díaz-Sandoval


Using unprecedented catalogues of past severe drought data for the Yucatan Peninsula between 1502 and 1900 coming from historical written documentation, we identified five conspicuous time lapses with no droughts between 1577–1647, 1662–1724, 1728–1764, 1774–1799 and 1855–1880, as well as time epochs with most frequent droughts between 1800 and 1850. Moreover, the most prominent periodicity of the historical drought time series was that of ∼40 years. Using the Palmer Drought Severity Index for the Yucatan Peninsula for the period 1921–1987 we found prominent negative phases between ∼1942–1946 and 1949–1952, 1923–1924, 1928–1929, 1935–1936, 1962–1963, 1971–1972 and 1986–1987. Two prominent periodicities clearly appear at ∼5 and 10 years. Most modern and historical severe droughts lasted 1 year, and share a quasi-decadal frequency. Also, in the first 66 years of the twentieth century the frequency of occurrence of severe drought has been lower compared with the nineteenth century. Some of the major effects and impacts of the most severe droughts in the Yucatan region are examined. We also studied the relation between historical and modern droughts and several large scale climate phenomena represented by the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) and the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI). Our results indicate that historical droughts and the cold phase of the AMO coincide, while the influence of the SOI is less clear. The strongest coherence between historical droughts and AMO occurred at periodicities of ∼40 years. For modern droughts the coherence of a drought indicator (the Palmer Drought Severity Index) is similar with AMO and SOI, although it seems more sustained with the AMO. They are strongest at ∼10 years and very clearly with the AMO cold phase. Concerning the solar activity proxies and historical droughts, the coherence with a record of beryllium isotope Be10, which is a good proxy of cosmic rays, is higher than with Total Solar Irradiance. We notice that the strongest coherence between historical droughts and Be10 occurs at periods ∼60–64 years. When studying modern droughts and solar activity, frequencies of ∼8 years appear, and the coherences are similar for both sunspots and cosmic rays. Comparing natural terrestrial and solar phenomena, we found that the most sustained and strongest modulation of historical drought occurrence is at ∼60–64 years and is between the historical drought series and the solar proxy Be10. For modern droughts we notice that the coherence is similar among AMO, SOI and the solar indices. We can conclude that the sea surface temperatures (AMO) and solar activity leave their signal in terms of severe droughts in the Maya lands, however in the long term, the influence of the SOI on this type of phenomenon is less clear.


Southern Oscillation Index Palmer Drought Severity Index Total Solar Irradiance Yucatan Peninsula Wavelet Power Spectrum 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Blanca Mendoza
    • 1
    Email author
  • Virginia García-Acosta
    • 2
  • Victor Velasco
    • 1
  • Ernesto Jáuregui
    • 1
  • Rosa Díaz-Sandoval
    • 1
  1. 1.Instituto de Geofísica, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoCiudad UniversitariaMéxicoMéxico
  2. 2.Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología SocialMéxicoMéxico

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