UW Researcher Connects Dots Among Ocean Dynamics, Drought and Forests


In a time of drastic change, humans look for predictability.

In a time of drastic change, humans look for predictability. A recent study led by a University of Wyoming researcher found that even in dramatically changing climates, mechanisms can be found that predict how those changes will play out. The last ice age was 11,000 years ago and, since then, climates have continuously changed, triggering constant shifts in the landscape.

This study found predictable, traceable connections between changes in how the Atlantic Ocean flowed and operated with centuries-long droughts and changes in forest makeup. Connections like these provide a useful framework for anticipating how climate change will continue to shape the way weather and ecosystems look in the future.

“Our study found that, over the past 8,000 years, shifts in the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic led to severe drought in North America,” says Bryan Shuman, a professor in UW’s Department of Geology and Geophysics, who headed up the research that came to these conclusions. “The mechanics of this connection remain today, and the potential for changes in the ocean to lead to severe droughts highlights a serious risk for the U.S.”

Read more at University of Wyoming

Photo: UW undergraduate students work with Bryan Shuman (in small boat), a UW professor of geology and geophysics, to collect sediment core samples from the bottom of small lakes in the northeast United States as part of a study of ancient droughts. Pictured, from left, are Nicolas Mores (wearing hat), Ryan Davis, John Calder (a Ph.D. student) and Sara Burrell. Shuman was lead author of a paper, titled “Predictable Hydrological and Ecological Responses to Holocene North Atlantic Variability,” that was published in the March 11 edition of PNAS.  CREDIT: Marc Serravezza