Coral reef reveals history of fickle weather in the central Pacific

May 16, 2006

For more than five decades, archaeologists, geographers, and other researchers studying the Pacific Islands have used a model of late Holocene climate change based largely on other regions of the world. However, in a new study from the June issue of Current Anthropology, Melinda Allen (University of Auckland, New Zealand) uses evidence from the long-lived Pacific corals to suggest that the climate in the Pacific diverged from the rest of the world during two major climate periods: the "Little Ice Age" and the "Medieval Warm Period."

"These findings have relevance for both ancient and modern Pacific peoples," explains Allen. "Climate change, accelerated sea rise, and deterioration of coral reefs, along with their associated social and environmental costs, are among the most pressing concerns of Pacific Island nations today."

The new climate models presented in this paper suggest that while the rest of the world was experiencing certain weather patterns, the Pacific island region and the people who lived there were experiencing something else entirely. During the "Medieval Warm Period" ca. A.D. 900-1200, conditions in the tropical Pacific were cool and possibly dry. Similarly, during the "Little Ice Age" ca. A.D. 1550-1900, the central Pacific was comparatively warm and wet, with stormy conditions more common.

As Allen writes: "The ancient coral studies, in tandem with archaeology, offer an opportunity for investigating the impact of climate change on Pacific environment and Pacific peoples' responses to these changes - conditions which their successors are again facing in the 21st century."
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Sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Current Anthropology is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics. For more information, please see our Web site: www.journals.uchicago.edu/CA

Melinda Allen. "New ideas about late Holocene climate variability in the central Pacific." Current Anthropology 47:3.

University of Chicago Press Journals

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