Geophysical Research Letters

The impact of devegetated dune fields on North American climate during the late Medieval Climate Anomaly



[1] During the Medieval Climate Anomaly, North America experienced severe droughts and widespread mobilization of dune fields that persisted for decades. We use an atmosphere general circulation model, forced by a tropical Pacific sea surface temperature reconstruction and changes in the land surface consistent with estimates of dune mobilization (conceptualized as partial devegetation), to investigate whether the devegetation could have exacerbated the medieval droughts. Presence of devegetated dunes in the model significantly increases surface temperatures, but has little impact on precipitation or drought severity, as defined by either the Palmer Drought Severity Index or the ratio of precipitation to potential evapotranspiration. Results are similar to recent studies of the 1930s Dust Bowl drought, suggesting bare soil associated with the dunes, in and of itself, is not sufficient to amplify droughts over North America.