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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Mar 22;113(12):3169-74. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1519566113. Epub 2016 Mar 7.

Shipwreck rates reveal Caribbean tropical cyclone response to past radiative forcing.

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Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721;
Department of Geography and Geology, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS 39402;
Department of Botany, University of Santiago de Compostela, 27002 Lugo, Spain; Department of History I, University of Huelva, 21071 Huelva, Spain.


Assessing the impact of future climate change on North Atlantic tropical cyclone (TC) activity is of crucial societal importance, but the limited quantity and quality of observational records interferes with the skill of future TC projections. In particular, North Atlantic TC response to radiative forcing is poorly understood and creates the dominant source of uncertainty for twenty-first-century projections. Here, we study TC variability in the Caribbean during the Maunder Minimum (MM; 1645-1715 CE), a period defined by the most severe reduction in solar irradiance in documented history (1610-present). For this purpose, we combine a documentary time series of Spanish shipwrecks in the Caribbean (1495-1825 CE) with a tree-growth suppression chronology from the Florida Keys (1707-2009 CE). We find a 75% reduction in decadal-scale Caribbean TC activity during the MM, which suggests modulation of the influence of reduced solar irradiance by the cumulative effect of cool North Atlantic sea surface temperatures, El Niño-like conditions, and a negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation. Our results emphasize the need to enhance our understanding of the response of these oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns to radiative forcing and climate change to improve the skill of future TC projections.


Caribbean; Maunder Minimum; dendrochronology; documentary data; tropical cyclone

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