Worsening drought, water restrictions, and wildfires have been widely featured in news reports across North America during recent years. Area burned by wildfire was at unprecedented levels in the United States in the summer of 2002, and devastating wildfires in California were in the news just a few months ago. Drought is not only gripping parts of North America, but also parts of Northern Africa and other regions worldwide, serving as a reminder of society's vulnerability to drought and its enormous economic impact.
But what is the full range of past drought variability, as revealed by paleoclimate data? What role might droughts associated with abrupt climate change play? Are droughts likely to become more frequent, longer, or more extensive as we move into the future with global warming?