1Instituto Argentino de Nivología, Glaciología y Ciencias Ambientales (IANIGLA), CCT-CONICET, C.C. 330, 5500 Mendoza, Argentina
2Laboratorio de Dendrocronología y Cambio Global, Facultad de Ciencias Forestales y Recursos Naturales, Universidad Austral de Chile, Casilla 567, Valdivia, Chile
3Instituto de Investigaciones Geológicas y del Medio Ambiente, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, Campus Universitario, calle 27s/n Cotacota, La Paz, Bolivia
4Department of Geography, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, USA
5Section of Plant Ecology and Biodiversity, Faculty of Sciences, University of Utrecht, P.O. Box 80084, 3508 TB Utrecht, The Netherlands
Abstract. During the second half of the 20th century, the Central Andes has experienced significant climatic and environmental changes characterized by a persistent warming trend, an increase in elevation of the 0 °C isotherm, and a sustained shrinkage of glaciers. These changes have occurred in conjunction with a steady growing demand for water resources. Given the short span of instrumental hidroclimatic records in this region, longer records are needed to understand the nature of climate variability and improve the predictability of precipitation, a key factor modulating the socio-economic development in the South American Altiplano and the adjacent arid lowlands. In this study we present the first quasi-millennial, tree-ring based precipitation reconstruction for the South American Altiplano. This annual (November–October) precipitation reconstruction is based on Polylepis tarapacana tree-ring series and represents the closest dendroclimatological record to the Equator in South America. This high-resolution reconstruction covers the past 707 yr and provides a unique record to characterize the occurrence of extreme events and consistent oscillations in precipitation, as well as to check the spatial and temporal stabilities of the teleconnections between rainfall in the Altiplano and hemispheric forcings such as El Niño-Southern Oscillation. Since the 1930s up to present a persistent negative trend in precipitation is recorded in the reconstruction, with the three driest years since 1300 AD occurring in the last 70 yr. The reconstruction contains a clear ENSO-like pattern at interannual to multicentennial time scales which determines inter-hemispheric linkages between our reconstruction and other precipitation-sensitive records modulated by ENSO in North America. Our reconstruction points out that century-scale dry periods are a recurrent feature in the Altiplano climate, and that the potential coupling of natural and anthropogenic-induced droughts in the future would have a severe impact on current socio-economical activities in the region. Water resource managers must anticipate these changes to adapt for future climate change, reduce vulnerability and provide water equitably to all users.