Mid-Holocene climates of the Americas: a dynamical response to changed seasonality

S. P. Harrison*, J. E. Kutzbach, Z. Liu, P. J. Bartlein, B. Otto-Bliesner, D. Muhs, I. C. Prentice, R. S. Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Citations (Scopus)


Simulations of the climatic response to mid-Holocene (6 ka BP) orbital forcing with two coupled ocean-atmosphere models (FOAM and CSM) show enhancement of monsoonal precipitation in parts of the American Southwest, Central America and northern-most South America during Northern Hemisphere summer. The enhanced onshore flow that brings precipitation into Central America is caused by a northward displacement of the inter-tropical convergence zone, driven by cooling of the equatorial and warming of the northern subtropical and mid-latitude ocean. Ocean feedbacks also enhance precipitation over the American Southwest, although the increase in monsoon precipitation there is largely driven by increases in land-surface temperature. The northward shift in the equatorial precipitation band that causes enhanced precipitation in Central America and the American Southwest has a negative feedback effect on monsoonal precipitation in northern South America. The simulations demonstrate that mid-Holocene aridity in the mid-continent of North America is dynamically linked to the orbitally induced enhancement of the summer monsoon in the American Southwest, with a spatial structure (wet in the Southwest and dry in the mid-continent) similar to that found in strong monsoon years today. Changes in winter precipitation along the west coast of North America, in Central America and along the Gulf Coast, caused by southward-displacement of the westerly storm tracks, indicate that changes in the Northern Hemisphere winter monsoon also play a role in regional climate changes during the mid-Holocene. Although the simulations with FOAM and CSM differ in detail, the general mechanisms and patterns are common to both. The model results thus provide a coherent dynamical explanation for regional patterns of increased or decreased aridity shown by vegetation, lake status and aeolian data from the Americas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)663-688
Number of pages26
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number7-8
Publication statusPublished - May 2003
Externally publishedYes

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