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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Journal of Paleolimnology
Volume (Issue) 51
Page(s) 375 - 391
Title of proceedings Journal of Paleolimnology
DOI 10.1007/s10933-013-9761-3


High-resolution, well-calibrated records of lake sediments are critically important for quantitative climate reconstructions, but they remain a methodological and analytical challenge. While several comprehensive paleotemperature reconstructions have been developed across Europe, only a few quantitative high-resolution studies exist for precipitation. Here we present a calibration and verification study of lithoclastic sediment proxies from proglacial Lake Oeschinen (46°30’N, 7°44’E, 1,580 m a.s.l., north-west Swiss Alps) that are sensitive to rainfall for the period AD 1901-2008. We collected two sediment cores, one in 2007 and another in 2011. The sediments are characterized by two facies: A) mm-laminated clastic varves and B) turbidites. The annual character of the laminae couplets was confirmed by radiometric dating (210Pb, 137Cs) and independent flood-layer chronomarkers. Individual varves consist of a dark sand-size spring-summer layer enriched in siliciclastic minerals and a lighter clay-size calcite-rich winter layer. Three subtypes of varves are distinguished: Type I with a 1-1.5 mm fining upward sequence; Type II with a distinct fine-sand base up to 3 mm thick; and Type III containing multiple internal microlaminae caused by individual summer rainstorm deposits. Delta-fan surface samples and sediment trap data fingerprint different sediment source areas and transport processes from the watershed and confirm the instant response of sediment flux to rainfall and erosion. Based on a highly accurate, precise and reproducible chronology, we demonstrate that sediment accumulation (varve thickness) is a quantitative predictor for cumulative boreal alpine spring (May-June) and spring/summer (May-August) rainfall (rMJ = 0.71, rMJJA = 0.60, p < 0.01). Bootstrap-based verification of the calibration model reveals a root mean squared error of prediction (RMSEPMJ = 32.7 mm, RMSEPMJJA = 57.8 mm) which is on the order of 10-13% of mean MJ and MJJA cumulative precipitation, respectively. These results highlight the potential of the Lake Oeschinen sediments for high-resolution reconstructions of past rainfall conditions in the northern Swiss Alps, central and eastern France and south-west Germany.