Simulated climate variability in the region of Rapa Nui during the last millennium
Abstract. Rapa Nui, an isolated island in the Southeast Pacific, was settled by the Polynesians most likely around 1200 AD and was discovered by the Europeans in 1722 AD. While the Polynesians presumably found a profuse palm woodland on Rapa Nui, the Europeans faced a landscape dominated by grassland. Scientists have examined potential anthropogenic, biological and climatic induced vegetation changes on Rapa Nui. Here, we analyse observational climate data for the last decades and climate model results for the period 800–1750 AD to explore the potential for a climatic-induced vegetation change. A direct influence of the ENSO phenomenon on the climatic parameters of Rapa Nui could not be found in the model simulations. Furthermore, strong climatic trends from a warm Medieval Period to a Little Ice Age or rapid climatic fluctuations due to large volcanic eruptions were not verifiable for the Rapa Nui region, although they are detectable in the simulations for many regions world wide. Hence, we tentatively conclude that large-scale climate changes in the oceanic region around Rapa Nui might be too small to explain strong vegetation changes on the island over the last millennium.