Articles | Volume 9, issue 1
Research article
05 Feb 2013
Research article |  | 05 Feb 2013

The Medieval Climate Anomaly and the Little Ice Age in the eastern Ecuadorian Andes

M.-P. Ledru, V. Jomelli, P. Samaniego, M. Vuille, S. Hidalgo, M. Herrera, and C. Ceron

Abstract. To better characterize the climate variability of the last millennium in the high Andes, we analyzed the pollen content of a 1150-yr-old sediment core collected in a bog located at 3800 m a.s.l. in the páramo in the eastern Cordillera in Ecuador. An upslope convective index based on the ratio between cloud transported pollen from the Andean forest to the bog (T) and Poaceae pollen frequencies, related to the edaphic moisture of the páramo (P), was defined. This index was used to distinguish changes in the atmospheric moisture from the soil moisture content of the páramo and their associated patterns of interdecadal El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) variability and South American summer monsoon (SASM) activity. Results show that between 850 and 1250 AD, the Medieval Climate Anomaly interval was warm and moist with a high transported pollen/Poaceae pollen (T/P) index linked to high ENSO variability and weak SASM activity. Between 1250 and 1550 AD, a dry climate prevailed, characterized by an abrupt decrease in the T/P index and therefore no upslope cloud convection, related to lower ENSO variability and with significant impact on the floristic composition of the páramo. During the Little Ice Age, two phases were observed: first, a wet phase between 1550 and 1750 AD linked to low ENSO variability in the Pacific and warm south equatorial Atlantic sea surface temperatures (SSTs) favored the return of a wet páramo, and then a cold and dry phase between 1750 and 1800 AD associated with low ENSO variability and weak SASM activity resulted in drying of the páramo. The current warm period marks the beginning of a climate characterized by high convective activity – the highest in the last millennium – and weaker SASM activity modifying the water storage of the páramo. Our results show that the páramo is progressively losing its capacity for water storage and that the interdecadal variability of both tropical Pacific and Atlantic SSTs matter for Andean climate patterns, although many teleconnection mechanisms are still poorly understood.