Journal cover Journal topic
Climate of the Past An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Clim. Past, 13, 1355-1379, 2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
13 Oct 2017
Climatic history of the northeastern United States during the past 3000 years
Jennifer R. Marlon1, Neil Pederson2, Connor Nolan3, Simon Goring4, Bryan Shuman5, Ann Robertson1, Robert Booth6, Patrick J. Bartlein7, Melissa A. Berke8, Michael Clifford9, Edward Cook10, Ann Dieffenbacher-Krall11, Michael C. Dietze12, Amy Hessl13, J. Bradford Hubeny14, Stephen T. Jackson3,15, Jeremiah Marsicek5, Jason McLachlan16, Cary J. Mock17, David J. P. Moore18, Jonathan Nichols19, Dorothy Peteet19, Kevin Schaefer20, Valerie Trouet21, Charles Umbanhowar22, John W. Williams4, and Zicheng Yu6 1Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, New Haven, CT 06511, USA
2Harvard Forest, Harvard University, Petersham, MA 01366, USA
3Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
4Department of Geography, Center for Climatic Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA
5Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071, USA
6Earth and Environmental Science Department, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA 18015, USA
7Department of Geography, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA
8Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA
9Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, Desert Research Institute, Las Vegas, NV 89119, USA
10Tree-Ring Laboratory, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY 10964, USA
11School of Biology and Ecology, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469, USA
12Department of Earth and Environment, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA
13Department of Geology and Geography, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26501, USA
14Department of Geological Sciences, Salem State University, Salem, MA 01970, USA
15Southwest Climate Science Center, US Geological Survey, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA
16Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA
17Department of Geography, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA
18Department of Geosciences and School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
19Biology and Paleo Environment, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY 10964, USA
20National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA
21Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
22Departments of Biology and Environmental Studies, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN 55057, USA
Abstract. Many ecosystem processes that influence Earth system feedbacks – vegetation growth, water and nutrient cycling, disturbance regimes – are strongly influenced by multidecadal- to millennial-scale climate variations that cannot be directly observed. Paleoclimate records provide information about these variations, forming the basis of our understanding and modeling of them. Fossil pollen records are abundant in the NE US, but cannot simultaneously provide information about paleoclimate and past vegetation in a modeling context because this leads to circular logic. If pollen data are used to constrain past vegetation changes, then the remaining paleoclimate archives in the northeastern US (NE US) are quite limited. Nonetheless, a growing number of diverse reconstructions have been developed but have not yet been examined together. Here we conduct a systematic review, assessment, and comparison of paleotemperature and paleohydrological proxies from the NE US for the last 3000 years. Regional temperature reconstructions (primarily summer) show a long-term cooling trend (1000 BCE–1700 CE) consistent with hemispheric-scale reconstructions, while hydroclimate data show gradually wetter conditions through the present day. Multiple proxies suggest that a prolonged, widespread drought occurred between 550 and 750 CE. Dry conditions are also evident during the Medieval Climate Anomaly, which was warmer and drier than the Little Ice Age and drier than today. There is some evidence for an acceleration of the longer-term wetting trend in the NE US during the past century; coupled with an abrupt shift from decreasing to increasing temperatures in the past century, these changes could have wide-ranging implications for species distributions, ecosystem dynamics, and extreme weather events. More work is needed to gather paleoclimate data in the NE US to make inter-proxy comparisons and to improve estimates of uncertainty in reconstructions.

Citation: Marlon, J. R., Pederson, N., Nolan, C., Goring, S., Shuman, B., Robertson, A., Booth, R., Bartlein, P. J., Berke, M. A., Clifford, M., Cook, E., Dieffenbacher-Krall, A., Dietze, M. C., Hessl, A., Hubeny, J. B., Jackson, S. T., Marsicek, J., McLachlan, J., Mock, C. J., Moore, D. J. P., Nichols, J., Peteet, D., Schaefer, K., Trouet, V., Umbanhowar, C., Williams, J. W., and Yu, Z.: Climatic history of the northeastern United States during the past 3000 years, Clim. Past, 13, 1355-1379,, 2017.
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
To improve our understanding of paleoclimate in the northeastern (NE) US, we compiled data from pollen, tree rings, lake levels, testate amoeba from bogs, and other proxies from the last 3000 years. The paleoclimate synthesis supports long-term cooling until the 1800s and reveals an abrupt transition from wet to dry conditions around 550–750  CE. Evidence suggests the region is now becoming warmer and wetter, but more calibrated data are needed, especially to capture multidecadal variability.
To improve our understanding of paleoclimate in the northeastern (NE) US, we compiled data from...