Protracted Indian monsoon droughts of the past millennium and their societal impacts

Kathayat, Gayatri, Sinha, Ashish, Breitenbach, Sebastian, Tan, Liangcheng, Spötl, Christoph, Li, Hanying, Dong, Xiyu, Zhang, Haiwei, Ning, Youfeng, Allan, Robert J., Damodaran, Vinita, Edwards, R. Lawrence and Cheng, Hai (2022) Protracted Indian monsoon droughts of the past millennium and their societal impacts. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 119 (39). e2207487119. ISSN 0027-8424

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Protracted droughts lasting years to decades constitute severe threats to human welfare across the Indian subcontinent. Such events are, however, rare during the instrumental period (ca. since 1871 CE). In contrast, the historic documentary evidence indicates the repeated occurrences of protracted droughts in the region during the preinstrumental period implying that either the instrumental observations underestimate the full spectrum of monsoon variability or the historic accounts overestimate the severity and duration of the past droughts. Here we present a temporally precise speleothem-based oxygen isotope reconstruction of the Indian summer monsoon precipitation variability from Mawmluh cave located in northeast India. Our data reveal that protracted droughts, embedded within multidecadal intervals of reduced monsoon rainfall, frequently occurred over the past millennium. These extreme events are in striking temporal synchrony with the historically documented droughts, famines, mass mortality events, and geopolitical changes in the Indian subcontinent. Our findings necessitate reconsideration of the region’s current water resources, sustainability, and mitigation policies that discount the possibility of protracted droughts in the future.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Funding information: Research funded by National Natural Science Foundation of China (41888101), National Natural Science Foundation of China (41703007 & 42172201), Presidents' International Fellowship Initiative (2020VCA0019).
Subjects: F800 Physical and Terrestrial Geographical and Environmental Sciences
Depositing User: Elena Carlaw
Date Deposited: 31 Oct 2022 14:14
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2023 03:30

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