Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Extreme and persistent drought in California and Patagonia during mediaeval time


STUDIES from sites around the world1–5 have provided evidence for anomalous climate conditions persisting for several hundred years before about AD 1300. Early workers emphasized the temperature increase that marked this period in the British Isles, coining the terms 'Mediaeval Warm Epoch' and 'Little Climatic Optimum', but many sites seem to have experienced equally important hydrological changes. Here I present a study of relict tree stumps rooted in present-day lakes, marshes and streams, which suggests that California's Sierra Nevada experienced extremely severe drought conditions for more than two centuries before ad 1112 and for more than 140 years before ad 1350. During these periods, runoff from the Sierra was significantly lower than during any of the persistent droughts that have occurred in the region over the past 140 years. I also present similar evidence from Patagonia of drought conditions coinciding with at least the first of these dry periods in California. I suggest that the droughts may have been caused by reorientation of the mid-latitude storm tracks, owing to a general contraction of the circumpolar vortices and/or a change in the position of the vortex waves. If this reorientation was caused by mediaeval warming, future natural or anthropogenically induced warming may cause a recurrence of the extreme drought conditions.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. Lamb, H. H. Climate: Past, Present, and Future (Methuen, London, 1977).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Baerrels, D. A. & Bryson, R. A. (eds). Archs Archeol. 29, 1–673 (1967).

  3. Bryson, R. A. & Swain, A. M. Quat. Res. 16, 135–145 (1981).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Vance, R. E., Mathewes, R. W. & Clague, J. J. Geology 20, 879–882 (1992).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Cook, E. et al. Science 253, 1266–1268 (1991).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Stine, S. Envir. Geol. Water Sci. 17, 67–83 (1990).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Stine, S. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 78, 333–381 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Stine, S. thesis, Univ. California (1987).

  9. Stine, S. & Stine, M. Nature 345, 705–708 (1990).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Bryson, R. A. & Padoch, C. Climate and History (eds Rotberg, R. I. & Rabb, T. K.) 3–18 (Princeton Univ. Press, 1981).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Stuiver, M. & Reimer, P. Radiocarbon 35, 215–230 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Lawrence, D. B. & Lawrence, E. G. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 95, 341 (1961).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Stine, S. Extreme and persistent drought in California and Patagonia during mediaeval time. Nature 369, 546–549 (1994).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing