A low-frequency summer temperature reconstruction for the United States Southwest, 3000 BC–AD 2000

Andrew Gillreath-Brown, R. Kyle Bocinsky, Timothy A. Kohler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Temperature variability likely played an important role in determining the spread and productive potential of North America’s key prehispanic agricultural staple, maize. The United States Southwest (SWUS) also served as the gateway for maize to reach portions of North America to the north and east. Existing temperature reconstructions for the SWUS are typically low in spatial or temporal resolution, shallow in time depth, or subject to unknown degrees of insensitivity to low-frequency variability, hindering accurate determination of temperature’s role in agricultural productivity and variability in distribution and success of prehispanic farmers. Here, we develop a model-based modern analog technique (MAT) approach applied to 29 SWUS fossil pollen sites to reconstruct July temperatures from 3000 BC to AD 2000. Temperatures were generally warmer than or similar to those of the modern (1961–1990) period until the first century AD. Our reconstruction also notes rapid warming beginning in the AD 1800s; modern conditions are unprecedented in at least the last five millennia in the SWUS. Temperature minima were reached around 1800 BC, 1000 BC, AD 400 (the global minimum in this series), the mid-to-late AD 900s, and the AD 1500s. Summer temperatures were generally depressed relative to northern hemisphere norms by a dominance of El Niño-like conditions during much of the second millenium BC and the first millenium AD, but somewhat elevated relative to those same norms in other periods, including from about AD 1300 to the present, due to the dominance of La Niña-like conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)451-466
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2024


  • ENSO
  • US Southwest
  • late-Holocene
  • modern analog technique
  • pollen
  • summer temperatures


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