Climatic Change

, Volume 85, Issue 3–4, pp 357–379 | Cite as

North Atlantic oscillation control of droughts in north-east Spain: evaluation since 1600 a.d.

  • Sergio M. Vicente-SerranoEmail author
  • José M. Cuadrat


This paper analyses the role played by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) in the creation of drought conditions in a semi-arid region of north-east Spain (the middle Ebro valley), from 1600 to the year 2000. The study used documents from ecclesiastical archives for the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For the twentieth century, instrumental precipitation records were used as well. A December–August drought index from 1600 to 1900 was compiled from the historical documentary sources (rogation ceremonies). The index was validated by means of precipitation records between 1858 and 1900 and independent precipitation data from 1600 reconstructed by means of dendrochronological records. Using instrumental data a drought index was also calculated (Standardized Precipitation Index, SPI) for the 1958–2000 period. We found that the NAO was important in explaining the droughts identified in the study area from documents and instrumental data. Positive values of the winter NAO index are prone to cause droughts in the middle Ebro valley. This finding has been verified since 1600 by means of two independent reconstructions of the winter NAO index. The same behaviour has been observed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by means of instrumental records. The climatic and geographic factors that explain the high influence of North Atlantic Oscillation on droughts in this region are discussed in depth.


Iberian Peninsula Standardize Precipitation Index North Atlantic Oscillation Drought Index Instrumental Record 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alexandersson H (1986) A homogeneity test applied to precipitation data. J Climatol 6:661–675CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Almarza C, Chazarra A, Pedraza B (1999) Adaptación del S.P.I. para el análisis de la variabilidad intra-anual de periodos secos. In: Raso JM, y Martín-Vide J (eds) La climatología española en los albores del siglo XXI. Oikos-Tau, Barcelona, pp 25–31Google Scholar
  3. Austin RB, Cantero-Martínez C, Arrúe JL, Playán E, Cano-Marcellán P (1998a) Yield-rainfall relationships in cereal cropping systems in the Ebro river valley of Spain. Eur J Agron 8:239–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Austin RB, Playán E, Gimeno J (1998b) Water storage in soils during the fallow: prediction of the effects of rainfall pattern and soil conditions in the Ebro valley of Spain. Agric Water Manag 36:213–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barnston AG, Livezey RE (1987) Classification, seasonality and persistence of low-frecuency atmospheric circulation patterns. Mon Weather Rev 115:1083–1126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barriendos M (1996–1997) El clima histórico de Catalunya (siglos XIV–XIX). Fuentes, Métodos y Primeros resultados. Rev Geogr 30–31, 69–96Google Scholar
  7. Barriendos M (1997) Climatic variations in the Iberian Peninsula during the late Maunder Minimum (AD 1675–1715): an analysis of data from rogation ceremonies. Holocene 7:105–111Google Scholar
  8. Barriendos M (2005) Climate and culture in Spain, religious responses to extreme climatic events in the Hispanic Kingdoms (16th–19th centuries). In: Behringer W, Lehman H, Pfister C (eds) Cultural consequences of the Little Ice Age. Vandenhoech & Ruprecht, GoettingenGoogle Scholar
  9. Barriendos M, Llasat MC (2003) The case of the ‘Maldá’ anomaly in the western Mediterranean basin (AD 1760–1800): an example of strong climatic variability. Clim Change 61:191–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Barriendos M, Martin-Vide J (1998) Secular climatic oscillations as indicated by catastrophic floods in the Spanish Mediterranean coastland area. Clim Change 38:473–491CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Camuffo D, Secco C, Brimblecombe P, Martín-Vide J (2000) Sea storms in the Adriatic sea and the Western Mediterranean during the last millenium. Clim Change 46:209–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cook E, D’Arrigo RD, Mann ME (2002) A well-verified, multiproxy reconstruction of the winter North Atlantic Oscillation Index since a.d. 1400. J Climate 15:1754–1764CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Creus J, Ferraz J (1995). Irregularidad pluviométrica y continentalidad térmica en el valle medio del Ebro. Lucas Mallada 7:147–164Google Scholar
  14. Creus J, Saz MA (2004) La sequía como principal factor limitante del desarrollo de Pinus halepensis Mill. en el sector central del valle del Ebro. In: García-Codrón (ed) El clima entre el mar y la montaña. Asociación Española de Climatología, SantanderGoogle Scholar
  15. Cuadrat JM (1999) El clima de Aragón. CAI 100, Zaragoza, p 109Google Scholar
  16. Cullen R, D’Arrigo E, Cook E, Mann ME (2001) Multiproxy-based reconstructions of the North Atlantic Oscillation over the past three centuries. Paleoceanography 15:27–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Delitala AMS, Cesari D, Chessa PA, Ward MN (2000) Precipitation over Sardinia (Italy) during the 1946–1993 rainy season and associated large-scales climate variations. Int J Climatol 20:519–541CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dracup JA, Lee K, Paulson EG (1980) On the definition of droughts. Water Resour Res 16:297–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Esteban P, Soler X, Prohom M, Planchon O (2002) La distribución de la precipitación a través del índice NAO. El efecto del relieve a escala local: el Pirineo Oriental. In: Guijarro JA, Grimalt M, Laita M, Alonso S (eds) El agua y el clima. Asociación Española de Climatología, Mallorca, pp 25–34Google Scholar
  20. García R, Gimeno L, Hernández E, Prieto R, Ribera P (2000) Reconstructing the North Atlantic atmospheric circulation in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries from historical sources. Clim Res 14:147–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. García R, Macias A, Gallego D, Hernández E, Gimeno L, Ribera P (2003) Reconstruction of the precipitation in the Canary islands for the period 1595–1836. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 81:68–77Google Scholar
  22. García Herrera R, Gallego D, Hernández E, Gimeno L, Ribera P (2001) Influence of the North Atlantic Oscillation on the Canary Island precipitation. J Climate 14:3889–3903CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Glueck MF, Stockton CW (2001) Reconstruction of the North Atlantic Oscillation, 1429–1983. Int J Climatol 21:1453–1465CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. González-Hidalgo JC, Vicente-Serrano SM, De Luis M, Raventós J (2003) Spatial differences in the influence of teleconnections atmospheric patterns on winter precipitation in the east of Iberian Peninsula. Geophys Res Abstr EAE03-A-01856Google Scholar
  25. González-Rouco JF, Heyen H, Zorita E, Valero F (2000) Agreement between observed rainfall trends and climate change simulations in the Southwest of Europe. J Climate 13:3057–3065CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Grove AT (2001) The little ice age and its geomorphological consequences in Mediterranean Europe. Clim Change 48:121–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hisdal H, Stahl K, Tallaksen LM, Demuth S (2001) Have streamflow droughts in Europe become more severe or frequent? Int J Climatol 21:317–333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hurrell J (1995) Decadal trends in North Atlantic Oscillation and relationship to regional temperature and precipitation. Science 269:676–679CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hurrell J, Van Loon H (1997) Decadal variations in climate associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation. Clim Change 36:301–326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hurrell JW, Kushnir Y, Ottersen G, Visbeck M (2003) The North Atlantic oscillation: climate significance and environmental impact. Geophysical Monograph Series, 134Google Scholar
  31. Jones PD, Jónsson T, Wheeler D (1997) Extension to the North Atlantic Oscillation using early instrumental pressure observations from Gibraltar and South-West Iceland. Int J Climatol 17:1433–1450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jones PD, Davies TD, Lister DH, Slonosky V, Jónsson T, Bärring L, Jönsson P, Maheras P, Kolyva-Machera F, Barriendos M, Martin-Vide J, Rodriguez R, Alcoforado MJ, Wanner H, Pfister C, Luterbacher J, Rickli R, Schuepbach E, Kaas E, Schmith T, Jacobeit J, Beck C (1999) Monthly mean pressure reconstructions for Europe. Int J Climatol 19:347–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Köppen W (1936) Das geographische System der Klimate (Handbuch der Klimatologie, Bd. 1, Teil C)Google Scholar
  34. Lamb PJ, Peppler RA (1987). North Atlantic Oscillation: concept and application. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 68:1218–1225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. López-Moreno JI (2005) Recent variations of snowpack depth in the Central Spanish Pyrenees. Artic, Antarctic and Alpine Research 37:253–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Luterbacher L, Schmutz C, Gyalistras D, Xoplaki E, Wanner H (1999) Reconstruction of monthly NAO and EU indices back to a.d. 1675. Geophys Res Lett 26:2745–2748CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Luterbacher J, Xoplaki E, Dietrich D, Jones PD, Davies TD, Portis D, González-Rouco JF, von Storch H, Gyalistras D, Casty C, Wanner H (2002) Extending North Atlantic Oscillation reconstructions back to 1500. Atmos Sci Lett doi: 10.1006/asle.2001.004
  38. Luterbacher J, et al. (2006) Mediterranean climate variability over the last centuries: a review. In: Lionello P, Malanotte-Rizzoli P, Bosco R (eds) The Mediterranean climate: an overview of the main characteristics and issues. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 27–148Google Scholar
  39. Martín-Vide J (2001) Diez consideraciones sobre las sequías en Cataluña y Baleares. In: Gil A, Morales A (eds) Causas y consecuencias de las sequías en España. CAM, Alicante, pp 207–230Google Scholar
  40. Martín-Vide J, Barriendos M (1995) The use of rogation ceremony records in climatic reconstruction: a case study from Catalonia (Spain). Clim Change 30:201–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Martín-Vide J, Fernández D (2001) El índice NAO y la precipitación mensual en la España peninsular. Invest Geogr 26:41–58Google Scholar
  42. McAneney KJ, Arrúe JL (1993) A wheat-fallow rotation in northeastern Spain: water balance – yield considerations. Agronomie 13:481–490CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. McKee TBN, Doesken J, Kleist J (1993) The relationship of drought frecuency and duration to time scales. Eight Conf. On Applied Climatology. Anaheim, CA, Amer. Meteor. Soc. pp 179–184Google Scholar
  44. Moses T, Kiladis N, Díaz H, Barry R (1987) Characteristics and frecuency of reversals in mean sea level pressure in the north Atlantic sector and their relationship to long term temperature trend. J Climatol 7:13–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Oladipo EO (1985) A comparative performance analysis of three meteorological drought indices. J Climatol 5:655–664CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Olcina J (1994) Riesgos climáticos en la Península Ibérica. Phentalon, Madrid, 440 ppGoogle Scholar
  47. Olcina J (2001) Causa de la sequía en España. Aspectos climáticos y geográficos de un fenómeno natural. In: Gil Olcina y A, Morales Gil A (eds) Causas y consecuencias de las sequías en España. CAM, Alicante, pp 49–109Google Scholar
  48. Paulo AA, Pereira LS, Matias PG (2003) Analysis of local and regional droughts in southern Portugal using the theory of runs and the standardized precipitation index. In: Rossi G, Cancelliere A, Pereira LS, Oweis T, Shatanawi M, Zairi A (eds) Tools for drought mitigation in Mediterranean regions. Kluwer, pp 55–78Google Scholar
  49. Pérez-Cueva A (1983) La sequía de 1978–1982, ¿excepcionalidad o inadaptación? Agric Soc 27:225–245Google Scholar
  50. Pérez-Cueva A (2001) Las sequías en tierras valencianas. In: Gil A, Morales A (eds) Causas y consecuencias de las sequías en España. CAM, Alicante, pp 131–160Google Scholar
  51. Pérez-Cueva A, Escrivá J (1982) Aspectos climáticos de las sequías en el ámbito mediterráneo. Cuad Geogr-Univ Valencia 30:112–123Google Scholar
  52. Peterson TC, Easterling DR (1994) Creation of homogeneous composite climatological reference series. Int J Climatol 14:671–679CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Pfister C (1999) Wetternachhersage. 500 Jahre Klimavariationen und Naturkatastrophen (1496–1995). Verlag Paul Haupt, Bern, Stuttgart, Wien, 304 ppGoogle Scholar
  54. Piervitali E, Colacino M (2001) Evidence of drought in Western Sicily during the period 1565–1915 from liturgical offices. Clim Change 49:225–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Pita MF (1989) La sequía como desastre natural. Su incidencia en el ámbito español. Norba 6–7:31-61Google Scholar
  56. Portis DH, Walsh JE, El Malí M, Lamb PJ (2001) Seasonality of the North Atlantic Oscillation. J Climate 14:2069–2078CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Raso JM (1993) Evolución de las precipitaciones anuales en España desde 1870. Notes Geogr Fís 22:5–24Google Scholar
  58. Redmond KT (2002) The depiction of drought. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 83:1143–1147Google Scholar
  59. Rodó X, Baert E, Comín FA (1997) Variations in seasonal rainfall in southern Europe during the present century: relationshpis with the North Atlantic Oscillation and the El Niño-Southern oscillation. Clim Dyn 13:275–284CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Rodrigo FS, Esteban-Parra MJ, Pozo-Vázquez D, Castro-Díez Y (1999) A 500-year precipitation record in Southern Spain. Int J Climatol 19:1233–1253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rodrigo FS, Pozo-Vázquez D, Esteban-Parra MJ, Castro-Díez Y (2001) A reconstruction of the winter North Atlantic Oscillation index back to AD 1501 using documentary data in southern Spain. J Geophys Res-Atmospheres 106:14805–14818CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rodríguez-Puebla C, Encinas AH, Nieto S, Garmendia J (1998) Spatial and temporal patterns of annual precipitation variability over the Iberian Peninsula. Int J Climatol 18:299–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Rogers JC (1984) The association between the north Atlantic Oscillation and the southern oscillation in the northern hemisphere. Mon Weather Rev 112:1199–2015CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Saz MA (2003) Temperaturas y precipitaciones en la mitad norte de españa desde el siglo XV. Estudio dendroclimatico. Consejo Protección Naturaleza Aragón, Zaragoza, 293 ppGoogle Scholar
  65. Štìpánek P (2004) AnClim – software for time series analysis (for Windows). Dept. of Geography, Fac. of Natural Sciences, MU, Brno. 1.47 MBGoogle Scholar
  66. Szinell CS, Bussay A, Szentimrey T (1998) Drought tendencies in Hungary. Int J Climatol 18:1479–1491CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Thompson DW, Baldwin MP, Wallace JM (2002) Stratospheric connection to Northern Hemisphere Wintertime Weather: implications for prediction. J Climate 15:1421–1428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Trigo RM, Da Camara C (2000) Circulation weather types and their influence on the precipitation regime in Portugal. Int J Climatol 20:1559–1581CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Trigo RM, Palutikof JP (2001) Precipitation scenarios over Iberia. A comparison between direct GCM output and different downscaling techniques. J Climate 14:4422–4446CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Trigo RM, Pozo-Vázquez D, Osborn TJ, Castro-Díez Y, Gámiz-Fortis S, Esteban-Parra MJ (2004) North Atlantic oscillation influence on precipitation, river flow and water resources in the Iberian peninsula. Int J Climatol 24:925–944CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Vicente-Serrano SM (2004) Evolución espacio-temporal de las sequías en el sector central del valle del Ebro. Universidad de Zaragoza, Zaragoza, 1258 ppGoogle Scholar
  72. Vicente-Serrano SM (2005a) El Niño and La Niña influence on drought conditions at different time scales in the Iberian Peninsula. Water Resour Res 41:W12415, doi:  10.1029/2004WR003908
  73. Vicente Serrano SM (2005b) Las sequías climáticas en el valle medio del Ebro: Factores atmosféricos, evolución temporal y variabilidad espacial. Consejo de Protección de la Naturaleza de Aragón. Zaragoza, 277 ppGoogle Scholar
  74. Vicente-Serrano SM (2006a) Differences in spatial patterns of drought on different time scales: an analysis of the Iberian Peninsula. Water Resour Manag 20:37–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Vicente-Serrano SM (2006b) Spatial and temporal analysis of droughts in the Iberian Peninsula (1910–2000). Hydrol Sci J 51:83–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Vicente-Serrano SM, Beguería S (2003) Estimating extreme dry-spell risk in the middle Ebro valley (Northeastern Spain): a comparative analysis of partial duration series with a General Pareto distribution and Annual maxima series with a Gumbel distribution. Int J Climatol 23:1103–1118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Vicente-Serrano SM, Cuadrat JM (2007) Trends in drought intensity and variability in the middle Ebro valley (NE Spain) during the second half of the twentieth century. Theor Appl Climatol 88:247–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Vicente-Serrano SM, López-Moreno JI (2006) The influence of atmospheric circulation at different spatial scales on winter drought variability through a semiarid climatic gradient in north east Spain. Int J Climatol 26:1427–1453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Vicente-Serrano SM, González-Hidalgo JC, de Luis M, Raventós J (2004) Spatial and temporal patterns of droughts in the Mediterranean area: the Valencia region (East-Spain). Clim Res 26:5–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Vicente-Serrano SM, Cuadrat JM, Romo A (2006) Early prediction of crop productions using drought indices at different time scales and remote sensing data: application in the Ebro valley (North-east Spain). Int J Remote Sens 27:511–518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Vinther BM, Andersen KK, Hansen AW, Schmith T, Jones PD (2003) Improving the Gibraltar/Reyjavik NAO Index. Geophys Res Lett 30:2222, doi: 10.1029/2003GL018220
  82. Wilhite DA, Glantz MH (1985) Understanding the drought phenomenon: the role of definitions. Water Int 10:111–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Xoplaki E, Maheras P, Luterbacher J (2001) Variability of climate in meridional Balkans during the periods 1675–1715 and 1780–1830 and its impact on human life. Clim Change 48:581–615CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Xoplaki E, González-Rouco JF, Luterbacher J, Wanner H (2004) Wet season Mediterranean precipitation variability: influence of large-scale dynamics and predictability. Clim Dyn 23:63–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Zorita E, Kharin V, Von Storch H (1992) The atmospheric circulation and sea surface temperature in the North Atlantic area in winter: their interaction and relevance for Iberian precipitation. J Climate 5:1097–1108CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología, CSIC (Spanish Research Council)ZaragozaSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de GeografíaUniversidad de ZaragozaZaragozaSpain

Personalised recommendations