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A South Atlantic island record uncovers shifts in westerlies and hydroclimate during the last glacial

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Björck Svante, Sjolte Jesper, Ljung Karl, Adolphi Florian, Flower Roger, Smittenberg Rienk H., Kylander Malin E., Stocker Thomas F., Holmgren Sofia, Jiang Hui, Muscheler Raimund, Afrifa Yamoah K. K., Rattray Jayne E., Van der Putten Nathalie,
Project Climate and Environmental Physics: Pleistocene Earth System Evolution (pleistoCEP)
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Climate of the Past
Volume (Issue) 15(6)
Page(s) 1939 - 1958
Title of proceedings Climate of the Past
DOI 10.5194/cp-15-1939-2019

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Abstract. Changes in the latitudinal position and strength of the Southern Hemisphere westerlies (SHW) are thought to be tightly coupled to important climate processes, such as cross-equatorial heat fluxes, Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), the bipolar seesaw, Southern Ocean ventilation and atmospheric CO2 levels. However, many uncertainties regarding magnitude, direction, and causes and effects of past SHW shifts still exist due to lack of suitable sites and scarcity of information on SHW dynamics, especially from the last glacial. Here we present a detailed hydroclimate multiproxy record from a 36.4–18.6 kyr old lake sediment sequence on Nightingale Island (NI). It is strategically located at 37∘ S in the central South Atlantic (SA) within the SHW belt and situated just north of the marine Subtropical Front (SF). This has enabled us to assess hydroclimate changes and their link to the regional climate development as well as to large-scale climate events in polar ice cores. The NI record exhibits a continuous impact of the SHW, recording shifts in both position and strength, and between 36 and 31 ka the westerlies show high latitudinal and strength-wise variability possibly linked to the bipolar seesaw. This was followed by 4 kyr of slightly falling temperatures, decreasing humidity and fairly southerly westerlies. After 27 ka temperatures decreased 3–4 ∘C, marking the largest hydroclimate change with drier conditions and a variable SHW position. We note that periods with more intense and southerly-positioned SHW seem to be related to periods of increased CO2 outgassing from the ocean, while changes in the cross-equatorial gradient during large northern temperature changes appear as the driving mechanism for the SHW shifts. Together with coeval shifts of the South Pacific westerlies, our results show that most of the Southern Hemisphere experienced simultaneous atmospheric circulation changes during the latter part of the last glacial. Finally we can conclude that multiproxy lake records from oceanic islands have the potential to record atmospheric variability coupled to large-scale climate shifts over vast oceanic areas.