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Home > Natural Resources

Timeline of Climate Change and Water Reservoirs

California's water and climate history is evident in a long timeline view.

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A Timeline of California's Climate History

Timelines provide us with longer term perspectives...and show how the "jaggies" of daily change smooth out into cycles and waves of change.

Trees hidden beneath the waters of Sierra Nevada lakes suggest that California, and most of the West, experienced "megadroughts" that put our current water crisis in context.

These two century Medieval dry spells dropped water levels so low that trees began growing as much as 70 feet below the current surface of one Sierra lake, researchers say. When a wet climate returned, the trees drowned. Some remain rooted in the lake bottom; with their ghostly tips still visible when water levels drop each fall...or during droughts.

  • 1850 AD
  • Sporadic precipitation measurements begin in California, with stream flow measurements commencing about 40 years later. Since then, experts report no sustained drought lasting more than five or six years. One scientist says the past century may in fact be among the wettest in at least 4,000 years.
  • 1500 AD
  • What is now the continental United States is stricken by a 50-year drought, perhaps leading to the failure of European colonies in South Carolina and North Carolina.
  • 1300 AD
  • Beginning of 500-year Little Ice Age, leading to colder than normal temperatures
  • 900-1400 AD
  • Time of the "Medieval megadroughts." Two epic droughts are known, one lasting more than two centuries and the other about 140 years. Trees that are today still rooted in lakes and rivers may be evidence of these events. Similar droughts in the Colorado River basin may explain the disappearance of American Indian cliff dwellers.
  • 4,000 BC
  • Trees grow in areas now submerged by Lake Tahoe. Lower lake levels suggest a drier climate.
  • 9,000 BC
  • End of the last Ice Age; glaciers retreat.
    SOURCE: California Department of Water Resources

    Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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