Identifying climates favoring extreme weather phenomena is a primary aim of paleoclimate and paleohydrological research. Here, we present a well-dated, late Holocene Dead Sea sediment record of debris flows covering 3.3 to 1.9 cal ka BP. Twenty-three graded layers deposited in shallow waters near the western Dead Sea shore were identified by microfacies analysis. These layers represent distal subaquatic deposits of debris flows triggered by torrential rainstorms over the adjacent western Dead Sea escarpment. Modern debris flows on this escarpment are induced by rare rainstorms with intensities exceeding \textgreater30mm h−1 for at least one hour and originate primarily from the Active Red Sea Trough synoptic pattern. The observed late Holocene clustering of such debris flows during a regional drought indicates an increased influence of Active Red Sea Troughs resulting from a shift in synoptic atmospheric circulation patterns. This shift likely decreased the passages of eastern Mediterranean cyclones, leading to drier conditions, but favored rainstorms triggered by the Active Red Sea Trough. This is in accord with present-day meteorological data showing an increased frequency of torrential rainstorms in regions of drier climate. Hence, this study provides conclusive evidence for a shift in synoptic atmospheric circulation patterns during a late Holocene drought.
Floods comprise a dominant hydroclimatic phenomenon in aridlands with significant implications for humans, infrastructure, and landscape evolution worldwide. The study of short-term hydroclimatic variability, such as floods, and its forecasting for episodes of changing climate therefore poses a dominant challenge for the scientific community, and predominantly relies on modeling. Testing the capabilities of climate models to properly describe past and forecast future short-term hydroclimatic phenomena such as floods requires verification against suitable geological archives. However, determining flood frequency during changing climate is rarely achieved, because modern and paleoflood records, especially in arid regions, are often too short or discontinuous. Thus, coeval independent climate reconstructions and paleoflood records are required to further understand the impact of climate change on flood generation. Dead Sea lake levels reflect the mean centennial-millennial hydrological budget in the eastern Mediterranean. In contrast, floods in the large watersheds draining directly into the Dead Sea, are linked to short-term synoptic circulation patterns reflecting hydroclimatic variability. These two very different records are combined in this study to resolve flood frequency during opposing mean climates. Two 700-year-long, seasonally-resolved flood time series constructed from late Pleistocene Dead Sea varved sediments, coeval with significant Dead Sea lake level variations are reported. These series demonstrate that episodes of rising lake levels are characterized by higher frequency of floods, shorter intervals between years of multiple floods, and asignificantly larger number of years that experienced multiple floods. In addition, floods cluster into intervals of intense flooding, characterized by 75% and 20% increased frequency above their respective background frequencies during rising and falling lake-levels, respectively. Mean centennial precipitation in the eastern Mediterranean is therefore coupled with drastic changes in flood frequencies. These drastic changes in flood frequencies are linked to changes in the track, depth, and frequency of mid-latitude eastern Mediterranean cyclones, determining mean climatology resulting in wetter and drier regional climatic episodes.