Quelccaya Peru

Alpamayo - a very nice representative of Peruvian Andes mountains

Alpamayo - a very nice representative of Peruvian Andes mountains

It’s interesting what a set of Political Correctness blinders can do to folks…

I was watching a program on The National Geographic channel (it’s part of the package, so I’m buying it in any case) with the provocative title “2012 Countdown to Armageddon” (yes, NatGeo has gotten THAT bad with scaremongering headlines and all).

This link gets to the video sample (who’s embed code is not liked by WordPress)


They have a link that describes the filming, too:


The interesting thing to me was that it was still a decent presentation of some nice photography and had interviews with some decent scientists. It did, however, feel compelled to filter everything though the Global Warming PC Filter at the end. But in the middle, there was some decent data presented and some nice insights.

As long as you read between the lines.

The Importance of 5200 BP

Holocene Temperature Variations

Holocene Temperature Variations

Original Imaage

There was a major event happened 5200 years before the present. It was global, it was cold, and there was a lot more moisture (at least in the mountains, as snow). I can’t overstate how important that point is.

Just as important, it was warm (very warm) just before that event.

How warm? Roughly the same as now and perhaps somewhat warmer. Take a look at the temperature picture above. In this case, that black ‘average’ line is less useful. The average hides the variations that can happen in a single data set. But notice that at about 5000 BP there is a brown spike up and a blue one just later. They then plunge down. Now look at the right edge where the 2004 arrow points. We are on just such a spike in one small data set. Though not as warm.

Now look back at that average line. It wiggles. Rise, then dip. Rise, then dip. And in between 6000 BP and 4000 BP we had a “little ice age” dip of sorts. Rather like the one just a few hundred years ago that shows as a ‘dip’ near our time on the right hand edge. In both cases, we warm out of that dip. But our future is not yet written. What happened in 5200 BP to present?

The temperature wobbled, then dropped, steadily but with a wiggle, to today. Overall, the long term trend is clearly downward from that peak about 7500 BP. If you fit a curve connecting the tops of the individual data set lines, you can immagine it rising, then rolling over, and continuing to drop through our instrumental data today. We’ve rounded the top and are headed down. In stock trading terms, we’ve got “Failure to Advance”. And to the extent that patterns repeat, we can place a reasonable bet that what happened 5200 BP is likely to happen again, as the cycle turns back to cooling.

So, what happened then? (From a Peruvian point of view)


Quelccaya is a “Tropical Ice Cap”, the largest one. It sits on top of the Andes in Peru. You will hear (and read) a great deal about how it’s retreated horridly “recently” and is not anywhere near as magnificent as it once was. How “Global Warming” is causing the glaciers to retreat and how it’s all our fault.

The problem?

There are plant remnants being uncovered at the foot of that retreating glacier that says this place was a green growing area 5200 years BP and that it had a sudden and catastrophic change as snow fell, and never left. Until now.

Think about that for a minute. The plants are found ‘in growing positions’ and preserved so that you can see the leaves, stems, and details. They were suddenly “flash frozen” and never thawed. Until now. There are similar things around the world. Ötzi, the Iceman, fell in 5200 BP and was covered in snow. Then held in the freezer until now. And more.

The “Warmers” like to focus on how much the ice has retreated. What I find far more important is that:

1) There was no ice there 5200 BP. Things were warmer and growing. In the case of Ötzi, folks were walking where it has been ice covered ever since. The time of 5200 BP was warmer than now and it was natural.

2) There was a catastrophic and very sudden freezing that happened with incredible speed. Snow fell, and didn’t leave. For 5000 years. It did this globally. And it was natrual.

These two together say that there is no tipping point from here to the warm side. We’ve been warmer, and we didn’t keep on getting warm, we got very very cold. They also say that we can get very very cold again.

The Maya

The Maya come into this in that they predict a change of the calendar in 2012. From the Wiki:

According to the correlation between the Long Count and Western calendars accepted by the great majority of Maya researchers (known as the GMT correlation), this starting-point is equivalent to August 11, 3114 BC in the proleptic Gregorian calendar

or about 5124 BP for their start of calendar date. Just about the time of the plunge.

The Maya Dresden Codex says that the calendar resets in 2012 and that it happens with a great downpour of water from the sky. The thesis is that they’ve been through this before and have a pretty good idea how things happen in this cycle of events.

Did they start their calendar period just after the last great event, to assure they were prepared for the next one? It’s possible it’s all just a grand coincidence, but these were some of the best astronomers in the world and they had a particularly accurate calendar. The Dresden Codex is fixated on weather and planting issues. This isn’t some “fluffy” praying to the sky gods, it’s a meat and potatoes (literally!) planting calendar. Critical for any farming society. They just look to have taken it to incredible extremes of duration (and accuracy, for their astronomical observations).

The 5.9 Kiloyear Event

At this point, we start to be ‘in the noise band’ on dates. Some are very accurate, like the carbon dates on the plants under the Quelccaya glacier. Others are more broad, like the dates for drop stones in sediments. Things disturb sediments. The layers can be smeared and hard to count. Sometimes fine dates, sometimes more broad.

But there is an event frequently called “The 5.9 Kiloyear Event”. It is also known as “Bond Event 4”. It could easily have been part of the 5200 BP process. Either as lead in, or as the same event and just with a sloppy fix on the date.

I suspect it was partially lead in (as it is characterized by aridification and in 5200 bp the rains came, hard) but part of the same overall process. A whipsaw. In 5900 BP we got dry and then all cold. It could easlily be that “Old Little Ice Age” or it could be the part just after it. The whipsaw.

At any rate, I think the two events are tightly coupled, we just don’t know how tightly.

From the wiki:

The 5.9 kiloyear event was one of the most intense aridification events during the Holocene. It ended the Neolithic Subpluvial and probably initiated the desiccation of the Sahara desert.

So the lead in to this time had a wetter Sahara. The result was the Sahara as we know it today. It ended a very wet time called the “Neolithic Subpluvial”.

Thus, it also triggered worldwide migration to river valleys, e.g. from central North Africa to the Nile valley, what eventually led to the emergence of the first complex, highly organised, state-level societies in the 4th millennium BC.[1] It is associated with the last round of the Sahara pump theory.

Here we get the impacts on our history. The move out of the Sahara into Egypt.

The Wiki then gives the obligatory sop to CO2, but this time “plants did it”. Nevermind that plants were around for a few million years… but at least they recognize the cyclical Bond Event.

A model by Claussen et al. (1999) suggested rapid desertification associated with vegetation atmosphere interactions following the 5.9 kiloyear cooling event (Bond event 4).[2]

Meanwhile, back at reality:

Bond et at. (1997) identified a North Atlantic cooling episode at 5,900 BP from ice-rafted debris, as well as other such now called Bond events that indicate the existence of a quasiperiodic cycle of Atlantic cooling events, which occur approximately every 1500 years.[3] For some reason, all of the earlier of these arid events (including the 8.2 kiloyear event) were followed by recovery, as attested by the wealth of evidence of humid conditions in the Sahara between 10,000 and 6,000 BP.[4] However, it appears that the 5.9 kiloyear event was followed by a partial recovery at best, with accelerated desiccation in the millennium that followed. For example, Cremaschi (1998) describes evidence of rapid aridification in Tadrart Acacus of southwestern Libya, in the form of increased aeolian erosion, sand incursions and the collapse of the roofs of rock shelters.[5]

The “some reason” is fairly clear to me. The Sahara needs a fairly warm world to suck in the moisture needed to stay lush and green. When it cools off too much, it turns into a desert. This history is fairly clearly saying that it got cooler. Too cool compared to before the 5.9 ky event to “recover” and to sustain a wet Sahara.

So we know that after Bond Event 4 things got even colder than in prior times. We’re on a rollercoaster downward. And while the Sahara dried out and became a desert, what happened in Peru? The snows came. Elsewhere in the world?

In the Middle East the 5.9 kiloyear event led to the abrupt end of the Ubaid period.[6]

From the Ubaid wiki:

The archaeological record shows that Arabian Bifacial/Ubaid period came to an abrupt end in eastern Arabia and the Oman peninsula at 3800 BC, just after the phase of lake lowering and onset of dune reactivation.[5] At this time, increased aridity led to an end in semi-desert nomadism, and there is no evidence of human presence in the area for approximately 1000 years, the so-called “Dark Millennium”.[6] This might be due to the 5.9 kiloyear event at the end of the Older Peron.

It was drying out and the dunes came back as that band of the globe became more desert like.

The 5.9 kiloyear event was also recorded as a cold event in the Erhai Lake (China) sediments.[7]

And it got cold in China too.

So you will hear some folks endlessly assert that cold is always drier. While that is true ON AVERAGE, the globe has no average climate. Some places dry, others get wetter. The Western USA is one of those places. We get wetter when it’s colder. The tops of mountains are another. They get colder and more snow falls. Glaciers advance. (Not always, though. There are some glaciers where the ‘lead in’ area is too dry to provide enough moisture for snow. But most of the time there is some moisture in the air, and that gets frozen out on colder mountain tops.) Given the symetrical nature of cold currents off the west costs of North and South America, I’d not be at all surprised to find they have the same “cold is wet” pattern that we have in the Western States.

Back to the 5.9 ky wiki:

Historically the period of the 5.9 kiloyear event is associated with the increased violence noticed in both Egypt and throughout the Middle East, leading eventually to the Early Dynastic Period in both Egypt 1st Dynasty and Sumeria. James DeMeo and Steve Taylor suggest that this period is associated with the rise of patriarchy, institutionalised warfare, social stratification, abuse of children, the development of the human ego, separation from the body, the rise of anthropomorphic gods and the concept of linear historic time.[8]

It was a pretty rough time in ‘ol Egypt.

So things started off with a drying process in the desert bands that drove migrations. It got colder. Then, on the mountain tops, it got very very cold and a boat load of snow started to fall. The “wet zones” of latitude continued wet, but it was a very cold snowy wet.

Now we can start to see the history shaping up. The desert latitude bands do dry out more as they cool, but the oceans need to cool too, and they dump moisture into the air. That moisture falls as snow at higher elevations and stays there, making the glaciers that have persisted to this day. To this time when we’ve almost warmed back to where we were (but not quite, the Sahara is still a desert). But now we’re lined up for the next cold plunge. The next 5200 year cycle of the calendar.

I note in passing that the Roman Empire used to grow a lot of grain in North Africa. The region has dried out since then. We had a Little Ice Age, rather like that cold period in the Chinese sediments.

It looks to me like we might have had the analog of the 5.9 kyr event in the Little Ice Age, then had a bit of warming out of it just before the next Bond Event (or perhaps the Little Ice Age was Bond Event Zero, and we’re now headed into the long slow decline, like the one after Bond Event 4). That thesis could use a lot more detail to flesh it out and see if the parallels hold at finer grain scales of time and space; but I think it makes a decent starting point for a hypothesis. But given that Bond Events have a couple of hundred year error band on the dating, it could just as easily be that the 5200 BP event in Peru IS Bond Event 4. Just more precisely dated.

In any case, the record is pretty clear. It started to snow in the Andes, and in the Alps, and that snow buried things that stayed buried for 5,000 years. Until the next turn of the Maya calendar is scheduled to arrive just as those things are once again melting out from under the glaciers. Looks like a cycle to me…

Back at Nat Geo

OK, they had a presenter (Nikolai Grube – University of Bonn) talking about the Maya Dresden Codex. He’s the expert on it and he read parts of the last page on camera. Some rough transcribed quotes:

“The last page of the Dresden Codex is prophetic” and is about inundation by water. A couple of glyphs were interpreted as ‘rain’, one being “black rain” or “black clouds” with “lightning”. “Destructive rain” and “Black clouds in the sky with lightning”. “Destruction of the earth through rain”.

He has a more global meaning to the destruction. To me it could just mean your garden variety floods messing up the farm land. Given that the rest of the Codex is oriented towards growing food and calendar events, I’d go with the ‘crop risk flood’ as opposed to the ‘end of the Earth’ interpretation.

He has a wiki page


and I think this is his page at Bonn (or it’s someone that looks like him with the same name ;-)


Ok, having established that the Maya thought we were in for a drenching, and playing up the “destruction of the earth” angle, Nat Geo runs off to Peru with Dr. Adam Maloof (of Princeton U.) as narrator. (As near as I can tell, just because he can talk to Dr. Lonnie Thompson and keep it straight).

Maloof has a Princeton page:


but he mostly is just a conduit for what Lonnie Thompson had to say. Lonnie has both a wiki:


and an Ohio State U. page:


What I found interesting in the presentation was that here they were, staring at a retreating glacier. Right next to a 12 to 18 foot wall of ice. Looking at 5200 year old plant remains, and talking about them having been flash frozen… and they give a wet kiss to “global warming” and “climate change”. All the time standing on the evidence that we’d been warmer than this before (as those plants were flourishing in a field, not under ice) and all that happened is we got suddenly colder.

Now Lonnie impressed me as the kind of guy would could state the facts and IMPLY the PC position without actually endorsing it, at least as long as funding depends on the Wet Kiss. But it was a strange thing, hearing them talk about how warm it was then, and how cold since then.

Some quotes? OK, Lonnie is studying the Quelccaya ice cap as it retreats. They gave the obligatory moan about it having shrunk from 56 to 40 kilometers^2 during his 35 years of study. (Ignoring that the shrinkage was the only reason he found what he found… and ignoring that it had grown from a warmer time in the past…) Maloof asserted they can get annual scale granularity out of the ice, and they both discussed the well preserved plants being exposed. There was a discussion of the fact that the freezing was very rapid to preserve such detail.

Lonnie: “5200 years ago this whole plateau was covered by a very large cold snow event and it buried all the vegetation at the same time.”

Maloof: [it] “was warm and boggy” then a very abrupt cover of snow “maybe overnight”.

All this while standing in front of a 3 – 4 meter glacial front edge.

Lonnie: ~”wetland plants exposed at the retreating front of the ice have been carbon dated to 5200 BP” “Fine preservation in growth positions”. “Flash frozen” rapidly to capture the plants.

Maloof: “cooling and wetting”

Lonnie then went on to say that the Maya were thought to have had a similar abrupt event and listed Ötzi, the Kilimajaro ice cores, and cultural records from the Maya and Hindu as recording similar events.

The show then ended with the obligatory voice over on Climate Change / Global Warming at the end and a very soppy episode of Lonni saying he had “no idea” what was to come but mentioned “abrupt change” and Maloof then mutates the 5200 BP rain induced flooding into an analog with AGW induced sea level rise flooding.

I was astounded to see such “mutilation of the reality” to try to force fit mountain snows and glacier building into a ‘glacier melting and sea level rise’ analogy.

My Evaluation

OK, I looked in the abstracts of some of Lonnie Thompson’s papers. They make sense to me, right up until they have the obligatory Global Warming tag lines. All I can figure is that he’s hitched to the Gravy Train as he needs the funding so glues on an AGW bit at the end of what otherwise looks like decent work.

For example, from this paper (I’ve bolded the PC tag lines, the reality is hidden between them):

Three lines of evidence for abrupt tropical climate change, both past and present, are presented. First, annually and decadally averaged δ18O and net mass-balance histories for the last 400 and 2,000 yr, respectively, demonstrate that the current warming at high elevations in the mid- to low latitudes is unprecedented for at least the last 2 millennia. Second, the continuing retreat of most mid- to low-latitude glaciers, many having persisted for thousands of years, signals a recent and abrupt change in the Earth’s climate system. Finally, rooted, soft-bodied wetland plants, now exposed along the margins as the Quelccaya ice cap (Peru) retreats, have been radiocarbon dated and, when coupled with other widespread proxy evidence, provide strong evidence for an abrupt mid-Holocene climate event that marked the transition from early Holocene (pre-5,000-yr-B.P.) conditions to cooler, late Holocene (post-5,000-yr-B.P.) conditions. This abrupt event, ≈5,200 yr ago, was widespread and spatially coherent through much of the tropics and was coincident with structural changes in several civilizations. These three lines of evidence argue that the present warming and associated glacier retreat are unprecedented in some areas for at least 5,200 yr. The ongoing global-scale, rapid retreat of mountain glaciers is not only contributing to global sea-level rise but also threatening freshwater supplies in many of the world’s most populous regions.

I’ve bolded the bits where the “spin” is put in. Not really lies, just making it fit the narrative. Lots of “unprecedented warming”.. except that it’s dancing around the elephant in the room of the very much PRECEDENTED warming of 5300 BP. Unprecidented for part of a cycle, ordinary in the context of the whole wobble.

Isn’t it amazing what the need to filter things through PC blinder can do to folks?

To me, it’s pretty clear. We’ve got a 1470 +/- year Bond Event cycle. The Maya have identified a 5200 year cycle outside of that (and given the couple of hundred year error band on Bond Events, it could be a multiple of them or a ‘quasi cycle’ anomaly where you get a ‘skip beat’ or interference pattern that shifts things a bit). 5300 BP things were about like they are now (though a bit warmer) and when that cycle turned, it was accompanied by a boat load of snow at higher elevations around the planet. We did a minor plunge into a cold phase that is only now relenting. Just about the time for the cycle to turn again.

At this point, I dearly hope the AGW theory is correct, because we’re going to need all the warmth we can get.

The only “good news” from my point of view is that if we’re lucky, it has a couple of hundred year error band on it and we might get to dodge this cold plunge and have it hit a generation or two from now. But given that other lines of investigation have said we’re due for a solar quiet induced cold plunge, I’m not all that hopeful…

FWIW, for any cycle longer than about a day, you will frequently see folks making the error of linear projection of the trend rather than seeing that it’s just a part of a cyclical pattern. That tendency regularly screws folks up in stock trading. Play a trend, but ONLY until it reverses…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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14 Responses to Quelccaya Peru

  1. boballab says:


    Thought you might find this little setup by NOAA interesting:


    It not only does Temp, Precip and Drought indices for each state, but also on regional scales (Southwest, Northeast, etc) and Contiguous US scale. Even better it also looks at things such as the Corn belt by area and productivity and you can look at both heating and cooling days.

    It gives a plot you can screencap and below it the data for each year can be copied so you can put them into a spreadsheet and make comparisons if you want.

    Run a couple temp graphs on state, regional and US scales and you will see a nice cyclical pattern in them.

  2. KuhnKat says:

    Thank you for the interesting post.

    I’ve read a few climate papers myself with the same stamp. The whole thing is anti-warming and at the end, and sometimes scattered through them, there are the obligatory ass kissings for the funding.

    If questioned I am sure they would never admit that their paper was sceptic! Wouldn’t be good for the continued work. Maybe we need a blog project where we go through the papers and rewrite them for reality?

  3. George says:

    “There are plant remnants being uncovered at the foot of that retreating glacier that says this place was a green growing area 5200 years BP and that it had a sudden and catastrophic change as snow fell, and never left. Until now.”

    What is interesting is that the same thing is being found in the European Alps. As the glaciers retreat in some alpine valleys, they are exposing wood that dates to around 5000 years before present.

    So the valleys that are currently glaciated were not only warmer, but they were warm long enough for forests to establish themselves.

    “So you will hear some folks endlessly assert that cold is always drier. While that is true ON AVERAGE, the globe has no average climate. Some places dry, others get wetter. The Western USA is one of those places. We get wetter when it’s colder.”

    Well, there is another thing, too. It might get wetter WHILE it is cooling because the atmosphere will shed water as it cools. The water takes longer to cool, imagine putting a pot of warm water in a refrigerator will produce steam. We likely get increased cloud cover which acts as a feedback to drive temperatures even lower which drives even more moisture out of the atmosphere. Now once it has finished cooling and stabilizes it will get dry as now the oceans have had time to cool off, evaporation reduces, “rain shadow” causing mountains have greater impact and squeeze even more moisture out of the air because it is even colder at the summits.

    In the Southwestern US, it seems that the storm track that currently takes storms into Washington and Oregon drops South and brings the stormy weather across the Great Basin. So even if those storms are dropping less moisture than today, they are dropping it in an area that previously got very little so going from less than 10 inches of rain a year to 25 inches of rain a year is a huge difference.

    When lakes Lahontan and Bonneville fill up, the Great Basin becomes a completely different place. The mountain peaks of the Basin and Range region collect snow which slowly melts and runs off in winter. Many hot springs reactivate. If you drive route 447 from Nixon to Empire, NV, you can see the deposits these hot springs left.

    What I would expect to see is a wetter Great Basin and a drier Great Plains. Reactivation of the dunes in Nebraska would be expected. That brings up another point. Reading this paper:

    Click to access Holocene.pdf

    It would seem that the Great Plains experiences rather frequent “megadroughts” (as we would term them). The last one was only 800-900 years ago and seem to have happened at fairly frequent intervals with what appears to be an exceptionally bad one 3500 to 4000 years ago.

    If such conditions were to happen now, it would mean famine for a large portion of the world’s population as the Great Plains provides a lot of food for a lot of people. Such areas of currently stabilized dunes aren’t limited to just Nebraska, either. Inland Washington state has them, too. I would expect to find them anywhere behind a “rain shadow” forming mountain range. When temperatures cool, less moisture makes it over the range.

    If something like this happens, and it appears to happen relatively frequently in geological history, “Katie, bar the door.”.

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    @boballab: Thanks, I’ll take a look. Sounds neat!

    @Kuhnkat: Sounds like an interesting project… maybe we can get some “Think Tank” to assign it to the interns ;-)


    “If something like this happens”

    Don’t you mean “When”?

    Not to be a pessimistic sort (but Economics is not called The Dismal Science for nothing ;-) BUT… one thing that is clearly apparant from the temperture graph is that it wiggles. Maybe not with perfect TIMING but always up then down then up then down…

    Look at the peaks (high and low). Connect them. Highs to highs; lows to lows. That gives you the channel. The reality wanders inside the channel. And it always wanders…

    This paper:


    focuses in on that last set and places it (at the worst) at 900 AD to about 1250 AD (per the chart). That would be 1100 BP to 760 BP. I make that the top of the ‘warm wiggle’ in the above graph.

    Fits the pattern of the “West” being hot-dry and cold-wet.

    The 3500-4000 BP range spans a lot of ‘wiggle’, but it’s about the same height (though with higher at each end). That could probably use some finer grain dating…

    I donno… looks to me like it would take some better explanation that that. Probably looking at displacement of the ‘desert band’ more northward…

    But it has this ominous statement (bolding mine):

    These results suggest three obvious conclusions:
    The similarity of the spatial patterns suggests that the physical processes that caused the modern droughts also caused the medieval megadroughts.
    The global atmosphere ocean conditions that currently cause modern droughts for a few years at a time were the prevailing ocean climate during the medieval period.
    Despite the shift in the mean tropical ocean climate ENSO variability continued as now but oscillating about a colder mean state.
    The global pattern of medieval hydroclimate

    If a cooler tropical Pacific Ocean was the cause of the medieval megadroughts then
    , analogous to the historical period, we would also expect the climate to have been drier in southern South America, wetter in northern South America and Central America, wetter in the Sahel region of Africa but drier in coastal east Africa and drier in parts of the Mediterranean and southern Europe. There should also be evidence of colder ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific. Figure 7 shows a compilation of proxy evidence (from trees, lake records, Nile flow records, ocean sediments etc.) for hydroclimate conditions during the medieval period. Broadly speaking, the evidence of wet and dry conditions fits into the global pattern of hydroclimate change established for the historical period using satellite data, instrumental records and climate models. One of the more intriguing records comes from records of Nile flow. This tends to be low during El Nino events as rainfall is reduced over the headwaters of the White Nile. Therefore La Nina conditions tend to support high Nile flow. In a 1993 paper analyzing the Nile records Quinn shows that low flows were only half as common during the medieval period as they were during the subsequent Little Ice Age!

    Not sure what to make of that Nile data… but don’t like that “cold ocean” line as we’re headed into a very cold ocean right now.

    Hopefully it’s an issue of ‘relative to the air’ and the air now is even colder, so we’ll still get loads of rain…. (he said as he whistled past the graveyard…)

    A very interesting topic to explore… Had I world enough, and time…

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    Hmmm… Found a paper by the NIPCC that talks about megadroughts. Has some choice words in it., but generally seems to link the droughts with hotter times in the MWP.


    Real clarity, however, comes when the turn-of-the-century drought is compared to droughts of the prior millennium. Cook et al. write that “perhaps the most famous example is the ‘Great Drouth’ (sic) of AD 1276-1299 described by A.E. Douglass (1929, 1935).” Yet this 24-year drought was eclipsed by the 38-year drought that was found by Weakley (1965) to have occurred in Nebraska from AD 1276 to 1313, which Cook et al. say “may have been a more prolonged northerly extension of the ‘Great Drouth’.” But even these multi-decade droughts truly pale in comparison to the “two extraordinary droughts discovered by Stine (1994) in California that lasted more than two centuries before AD 1112 and more than 140 years before AD 1350.” And each of these megadroughts, as Cook et al. describe them, occurred, in their words, “in the so-called Medieval Warm Period.” And they add that “all of this happened prior to the strong greenhouse gas warming that began with the Industrial Revolution [authors’ italics].”

    Then this nice little kicker:

    In further ruminating about these facts in the “Conclusions and Recommendations” section of their paper, Cook et al. again state that the medieval megadroughts “occurred without any need for enhanced radiative forcing due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas forcing” — because, of course, there was none at that time — and, therefore, they say “there is no guarantee that the response of the climate system to greenhouse gas forcing will result in megadroughts of the kind experienced by North America in the past.” And if the world’s climate alarmists refuse to acknowledge this possibility and continue to claim that global warming will most assuredly trigger the occurrence of medieval-like megagroughts, they will also have to acknowledge that the Medieval Warm Period of a thousand years ago had to have been much warmer than the Current Warm Period has been to date. But this acknowledgement destroys yet another of their claims, i.e., that the earth is currently warmer than it has been for one (Mann et al., 1999) to two (Mann and Jones, 2003) millennia.

    You can almost hear them thinking “Game, Set, and Match”

    So it looks like the “megadroughts” issue is tied to warm times, and we’re looking cold in the face.

    The “cold ocean” issue is still nagging, but I’m of the opinion we don’t know both the air and water temps at the same time, so we’re missing a piece.

    At any rate, it looks like as we’ve cooled from the MWP, the frequency, duration, and extent of large drouths has moderated. (My Dad used to say it that way, drouths… I feel bad for having complained at him about it. Found out later it was just an older form of the word and perfectly fine…) That implies further moderation as we continue to cool.

    So while we’ll still have ‘warm bumps with drouths’ they will be shorter and shallower and in the context of the slow slide to colder over the ages… until all hell breaks loose in a few thousand years ;-)

    Interesting line of investigation, but comforting to know it’s not likely to be ‘an issue’.

    Unless it is ;-)

    The paper shows a consistently lessening problem over long periods of time, though, just like the graph above shows a consistent drop of temps (though with a wiggle). So I’d be willing to ‘bet that way’.

  6. pyromancer76 says:

    E.M., these are some of your most important posts, especially as “Global Warming” is coming apart at the seams. The education in “science” that so many are getting, even if not accurate yet, may provide a desire for thinking geologically and Holocene-historically. What an opportunity! And you have been at the cutting edge in thinking about climate changes.

    I am still performing citizen duty on jury so no time to consider these important/essential/life-saving-if-we-anticipate-and-prepare issues. I would greatly appreciate a Think Tank (organized by E.M. Smith) around adaptation to:

    1) Regional droughts — from where and how can we reroute water supplies in the most economic way. There is plenty of water on Earth to distribute more effectively, fill aquifers, and water land.
    2) Regional floods (500-yr, 1000-yr, Biblical floods) — more attention to where not to build and create, or use more effectively, large catch basins. These can have “temporary” purposes. We have one such in our San Fernando Valley.
    3) Natural disasters “destined” to happen, e.g., massive landslides, lava, lahar flows — where not to build permanent dwellings but develop useful agriculture on fertile ground.
    4) Hot climate — enough energy development for refrigeration of air. Would better water distribution prevent sand dunes?
    5) Cold climate — that’s a tough one. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Perhaps “we” in the cold can “pay” those in the warm to develop additional, more extensive agriculture to feed the world. Huge green houses.

    As I write this, I read these ideas as assuming that we need some version of global government, something like the desires of the current marxists or statist-global corporations (AGW-Greenies) today. Shudder. I think we should begin with the U.S. and Canada and develop through representative democracy. Education, education, education. (Take the education of our youngsters away from the one-worlder-greenie-multiculturalist uneducated teachers of the present.) The water is there; the technology is available; the alliance with those south of our borders is in place. Let others follow our model.

    How about it, E.M.? You already have been laying the groundwork on your blog.

  7. boballab says:

    Speaking of droughts and heat. That page I linked to up above if you run a temp graph through 2009 for “Year to date” and one for Precip, you find that generally Precip is greater in the years that temperature falls. The best example of this is the 1930’s (Something the warmists desperately want to sweep under the rug). During those years temps rose and stayed relatively high, while Precip dropped like a rock and stayed there.

    This brought about (in conjunction with LAND USE changes) something that has not been seen since: Dust Storms that reached from the Midwest all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The History Channel was doing a replay of one of there series this past weekend and in one episode they showed clip of a film that was shot, in color, from the deck of a US Navy ship in New York Harbor. What you saw was a giant black dust cloud swallowing NYC. All that was still visible was a few buildings on the waterfront and the statue of liberty. If you didn’t know better you would swear that it was a typical sand storm from somewhere in Saudi.

  8. E.M.Smith says:


    E.M., these are some of your most important posts,

    So you’l forgive me for being lazy as we’re in the Christmas Doldrums and the market is sort of flat; that I’ve not done that WSW posting I ought to do? ;-)

    But thanks for the compliment.

    I do think it’s very helpful to keep an eye on the context of weather and climate over the last 10,000 years. It “centers you” and you realize that what we have now is just an incredibly stable bit. And that it’s been both warmer and colder before.

    I would greatly appreciate a Think Tank (organized by E.M. Smith) around adaptation to:

    And I think it would be great fun, too (see the Feynman posting https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/on-the-sillyness-of-consensus/ ) though I’d likely be “at work” 18 hours a day…

    The problem with the idea would be finding someone to fund it. Why? Becaues I’d not be able to promise them any particular result. In many cases, the “answer” would most likely be “leave people alone and see what happens”. Folks with loads of money rarely like that result…

    1) Regional droughts —

    Ought to be handled regionally. Look, for example, at Australia and California. Australia has started building desalinization plants. Now they have buckets of rain falling. Who is best positioned to decide on “more de-sal” vs “just wait” than the Australians themselves? They can choose to water lawns less, or pay for desalinizing, or build a new pond.

    In California, we have loads of dams. Do we add more or take them out and add desalinization? Ought it be decided by folks in California or Moscow? (And if you said “Moscow? What do they have to do with California? Then ask what UN Deligations and Commisions have to do with California. In both cases the answer is ‘nothing’…)

    But the bigger issue is food. IFF a megadrouth hits the midwest, desalizing and dams in California do you no good.

    So the best thing there is to understand the timing and pattern and have enough food stores to ride it out. Be less dependent on each year, every year, the same rainfall.

    So who will pay for an institution to tell them “Do as The Bible says and have 7 years grain in storage”. Or perhaps: “Remember the story of the grasshopper and the ant”. I get “funny looks” just from point folks at the “how to store food” posting (even though is saves me money and time, not to mention being convenient). Imagine trying to clime that hill on a continental scale?


    2) Regional floods (500-yr, 1000-yr, Biblical floods) — more attention to where not to build and create, or use more effectively, large catch basins.

    Insurance companies already have the flood maps. Give them a bit more information and they will “price in” the costs. You can’t stop folks from building in the “wrong” place, as there is no “right” place. Just a choice of risks.

    I live in a “wrong” place. On top of an earthquake zone. Looked at the timing “odds” and liked the weather, so I’m here. Some day Berkeley will be destroyed by a very large quake. This is ‘well known’. Folks live here.

    So that’s the wrong appoach.

    Inform folks of the risks, then let them be. Everyone has a unique “utility function” and no other authority can ever satisfy their needs with rule based decisions.

    It would likely be useful to have a “100 to 500 year Weather Report” one a year or decade ;-)

    So, today, folks build in river valleys that flood, on coasts that have major storm damage, on top of earthquake faults, in fire prone forests and scrub, in Tornado Alley, where hurricanes happen, where soil erosion and land movement removes foundations, etc. etc.

    There is no ‘good place’. So just make sure the home designers know the risk, the builders know the mitigation techniques, and the buyer knows what they are buying. Then the hardest part: Leave Them Alone.

    (If I want a Condo on the beach in Miami, or a cabin in the Flaming Forests of Wyoming, or even a home riding the Rock-n-Roll San Andreas, well, that’s MY choice.)

    3) Natural disasters “destined” to happen, e.g., massive landslides, lava, lahar flows — where not to build permanent dwellings but develop useful agriculture on fertile ground.

    Agriculture needs “permanent dwellings”. Folks don’t like to drive 200 miles to work each day. Folks in Hawaii regularly build in lava zones. (As do all those folks living on the side of Vesuvius). There is no need for “authority” and “control” here. Just public information on risks and local decisions.

    I can build a “Tornado proof” concrete undergrounded home. Or put a mobile home on a lot for 1/10 (or maybe 1/100) the cost. Both ‘work’. In one case I live in the bunker. In the other, I have the warning radio tell me to hop in the truck and ‘book it’ out. The “disposable home’. Both work. The person who can decide between them is the person with the wallet and who’s skin is on the line.

    4) Hot climate — enough energy development for refrigeration of air. Would better water distribution prevent sand dunes?

    Hot adaptation is very easy. We do it all the time. Look at Phoenix. Not really a problem.

    The amount of water needed to prevent droughts and sand dunes in a megadrouth event is just way too high. Even the native prarie grasses were not up to the task. Corn has no hope. But there are things you can do (and we’ve done them…) I remember the “how to conserve topsoil” movies shown in class as a kid. (Life in a small farm town is ‘interesting’ some times…) Farmers have adapted.

    Again, my expectation is that simply letting folks know what is coming is ‘enough’. They are smart enough to work out what to do (and collectively smarter than any central planning authority).

    So as the frequency of dry events increases, folks plant more sorghum and less corn. With enough warning, I suppose they could even put in a layer of “ice plant” for a year or two to hold things in place.

    5) Cold climate — that’s a tough one. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Perhaps “we” in the cold can “pay” those in the warm to develop additional, more extensive agriculture to feed the world. Huge green houses.

    Not nearly as hard as it looks. Thanks to our present technology level, we can make anything we need. The only constraint is that we need to decide to do it.

    So, for example, a nuclear power plant provide all the cheap and efficient power needed (and has fuel for 40,000 years availalbe just from land sources). With that, you can desalinize, recycle sewage and turn garbage into new products. Use those products to make greenhouses (run with artificial light if desired).

    The thing that changes is just the cost.

    That we choose to do things today in a cheaper way does not mean we could not do it in a more expensive way for other reasons.

    Pig farms, for example. I’ve seen proposals for ‘high rise pig farms’ in places like Holland (where land is dear). Suddenly your 100 acre farm can fit on 1 acre; and the weather doesn’t matter so much. Similarly, you can do ‘aeroponics’ just about anywhere as well has hydroponics. We already use artificial light in greenhouses as it is, so it’s just the incremental costs that matter.

    Last Christmas I saw a gaget being sold that gew a fresh mini-herb garden in your kitchen. Yup, a mini-hydroponcs set with built in bulb. Just “plug it in” and add water. We can do the same thing on a macro scale.

    In Saudi Arabia they already have giant green houses (though to deal with too much heat and dry) and giant desalinizing facilities. (But they have plenty of sun, so don’t need the all-electric lighting ;-) so this is not a hypothetical. It’s just a question of cheaper sources. Right now, Mexico can grow carrots cheaper than we can in a greenhouse. (Though tomatoes and lettuce are often from greenhouses as the quality is higher and transportation costs lower).

    So I’m not seeing a lot of “need” here for “big new ideas”. (Beware the Government Agent with “big new ideas”… it rarely works out well…)

    Best I can see is an “early warning system”. A way to spot a coming problem and advertize it. Problem is, we’ve seen how those are prone to hijack in the way AGW has been promoted….

    So I’d suggest taking what solace you can in knowing that the world adapts. A tiny bit of personal preparedness (and maybe some of those Biblical ideas about stores…) is most of what’s needed.

    As I write this, I read these ideas as assuming that we need some version of global government,

    Oh God, no!

    Central Authority has a long history of really screwing things up.

    Local Authority screws things up a little bit in one place or another, but always able to recover with neighborly help.

    I’ll take “local decisions” over “mindless stupidity from afar” any day.

    Education, education, education. (Take the education of our youngsters away from the one-worlder-greenie-multiculturalist uneducated teachers of the present.) The water is there; the technology is available; the alliance with those south of our borders is in place. Let others follow our model.

    And let it happen on a ‘peer to peer’ basis at the lowest level possible. A grocery chain in Texas decides to source tomatoes from Mexico while one in NYC decides to source from a hydroponic greenhouse in N.J.

    “One size fits all, doesn’t.”

    How about it, E.M.? You already have been laying the groundwork on your blog.

    Like I said, I’d be more than happy to do it. I just don’t see a whole lot of funding nor interest lining up for a “Climate and Food Futurist and Century Scale Weather Center” think tank… but it would be one heck of a gig…

    (Wonder if Joe Bastardi would be interested in the Global Centenial Weather Predictions department ;-) Frank Lasner as Data Historian and Archivist. Joe D’Aleo and A. Watts as Data Collection and QA respectively… Hey, I could get into this 8-)

    Just remember that the notion of a central government setting an Economic Policy that makes things better has regularly and utterly failed. It works well for ‘mega projects’ who’s scale is beyond what can be privately funded (like the Interstate Highway System and the California Aquaduct. Oh, and W.W.II) and it’s very useful for “countervailing force” against things run amok (like robber barron monopolies that distort markets) But it is very prone to corruption and being turned to waste and abuse (whitness the “Stimulus Packages” and our latest “last minute 1900 pages don’t bother-to-read Pork Express Budget”… ) So it’s an absolutely LAST CHOICE for any particular ‘need’.

    Inform first. Then wait. Regulate second (such as requiring ‘roof attachment’ hardware in huricane country, as later buyers have no way to influence the choice). THEN think about Local Government controlling. Only at the bitter end let that control run up hill to further away, less efficient, more corrupt, etc…

    And take what comfort you can from knowing that humanity has lived through all this before without any Global Governance. We’ve been around for over 100,000 years. Small works. Local works. We’ve got an existance proof. ;-)

  9. E.M.Smith says:


    Yeah, I’ve seen that show. “Spooky” doesn’t even come close. And to think my Dad lived through that.

    Helped me to understand some of what he’d told me that I thought was just being “over the top”. It wasn’t. He was just accuratly reporting.

    Mother-in-law, now 86, was in Oklahoma then. She has interesting stories too… (“Ever ride a tornado?” Yeah, she did. Not too far – about 200 yards IIRC. But my kids have heard the “Flying Granny” story… Just scratches. VERY lucky.)

    What bothers me is that folks like to think “they fixed it” when it really just fixed itself.

    But I think that’s a good example of how to properly adapt and mitigate. Make very entertaining BUT accurate and informative films of what has happened and will happen. Then let folks decide how to handle it if it comes again.

    (And frankly, I’d rather have my food storage system and my Crisis Kits than any notion of FEMA as my saviour… Local works, remote? Not so much…)


    After the 7.2 Loma Prieta quake, the whole system worked very well. We even had local folks just ‘doing what needed doing’ and it worked.

    One guy in spandex bike gear (bike leaning against non-working light pole) was directing traffic at a major intersection. Lady in a business suit at the next one. No central authority told them to do it. (Central Authority was too busy trying to figure out what to do). They just saw it needed doing and did it.

    I ran a ‘small quake party’ for friends who were less prepared. Wine, cheese, satelite TV. Generator at the ready (power was on in my block, off one block over). Was planning for a large dinner party when power came back on in the next block over and folks filtered home. In a major blackout a couple of years later I ‘fed power’ to the neighbor for a while. It’s what folks do when they are self reliant, and it works.

    So for a dust bowl, I could see having FEMA run in a load of dust masks and haul out the kids and elderly. But I could just as easily see a lot of folks going to the Home Depot with the credit card and passing out a bunch of dust masks around the block…

    And I really hope it never happens again.

  10. Tim Clark says:

    1) Regional droughts — from where and how can we reroute water supplies in the most economic way. There is plenty of water on Earth to distribute more effectively, fill aquifers, and water land.

    I have seen plans to dam the Mississippi north a bit from where missouri and iowa connect (from memory-early 70’s). Dig a deep hole to the west outside the levee with an elbow upstream to form a pool for sedimentation and some storage. Build a massive nuclear power plant somewhere on the Missouri/Neb line. Pump the water uphill in stages to dams on the Des Moines, Missouri (2) and smaller rivers. Build canals on topographical lines between pump stations. Eventual path was south of Souix City, then along the lower part of S. Dakota to Cheyenne, down the front range to storage resevoirs in N. Mex and Arizona and Texas. Denver gets some allowing west slope Colo River to go to Ca. Refill the N. Platte, So. Platte, Arkansas, Rio Grande, and other smaller tributaries. Looked good on paper. The idiots in Washington may consider this when the next depression hits and people need something to do CCC style. Nobody in Wash can think outside the box.

  11. pyromancer76 says:

    “Wonder if Joe Bastardi would be interested in the Global Centenial Weather Predictions department ;-) Frank Lasner as Data Historian and Archivist. Joe D’Aleo and A. Watts as Data Collection and QA respectively… Hey, I could get into this 8-)” I like your cast of characters, and characters they are — but among the most trustworthy IMHO.

    Tim Clark, I am familiar with Roger Sowell’s discussion of some similar proposals. A project like this would address both flood and drought — as long as it does not become too grandiose and believe that it can deny “Mother Nature”. I do think some large plans are important at this historical time as we (probably, statistically) go into a negative PDO, negative AMO (why isn’t it AMDO?), and a time of sleepy Sun. However, I agree with E.M. that the local “market” should manage most. And representative democracy can debate larger (mostly water) projects.

    E.M.: “And I really hope it never happens again.” Yes, indeed. Mainly, the best we can do is prepare and hope. I am continuing to add to emergency stores with a view to sharing with family and neigbors. Husband and I have had the first round of CERT training. Know we need much more and know a more major earthquake is coming (“easy” ones like in 1971 and 1994 are a preparation– my work situation after the latter quake was a nightmare, but continued on and lived through it).

    Lots to do and lots of education — especially re-educating young people who have had the currently ascendant marxist (not liberal) education that has falsified science.

  12. Gene Zeien says:

    If the warmth 5300 years ago was “unusual”, and the chill since then is the norm, we are in for a market correction ;-) Bond, et al.(2001)

  13. E.M.Smith says:

    @Gene Zeien:

    Well, that’s the basic “issue”…

    We get 10-12 Kyr of “good times” once every 100-120 Kyrs, then it’s “Back to the freezer”.

    Right now we have a political movement pushing us toward the “Freezer” at just exactly the wrong time.

    Such exquisitely wrong timing is something to be admired, and feared….

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