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In 1968, Benoit Mandelbrot and James Wallis published an article titled ‘Noah, Joseph, and operational Hydrology’ in the journal Water Resources Research. In it, they argued that hydrological models of the day were not able to estimate the true risk of extreme floods or prolonged drought, and that rare hydrological events were much more common than usually assumed.
In this lecture, I’ll review how high-resolution paleoenvironmental archives can help us judge more accurately the risks posed by the ‘Noah’- and ‘Joseph’-style events described by Mandelbrot and Wallis. I’ll give particular emphasis to the environmental information recovered from the rings of ancient trees, and explain how dendrochronology (tree-ring research) has been used to redefine the ‘flood of record’, test potential avenues for long-lead climate predictions, and gage the performance of state-of-the-art climate models.