Letter | Published:

Delayed hydrological response to Greenland cooling at the onset of the Younger Dryas in western Europe

Nature Geoscience volume 7, pages 109112 (2014) | Download Citation



The general warming trend of the last deglaciation was interrupted by the Younger Dryas, a period of abrupt cooling and widespread environmental change1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. Ice core records suggest the abrupt cooling began 12,846 years ago in Greenland10, about 170 years before the significant environmental and vegetation change in western Europe7 classically defined as the Younger Dryas. However, this difference in timing falls within age model uncertainties. Here we use the hydrogen isotope composition of lipid biomarkers from precisely dated varved sediments from Lake Meerfelder Maar to reconstruct hydroclimate over western Europe. We observe a decrease in the hydrogen isotope values of both aquatic and terrestrial lipids 12,850 years ago, indicating cooling climate in this region synchronous with the abrupt cooling in Greenland. A second drop occurs 170 years later, mainly in the hydrogen isotope record of aquatic lipids but to a lesser extent in the terrestrial lipids, which we attribute to aridification, as well as a change in moisture source and pathway. We thus confirm that there was indeed a lag between cooling and substantial hydrologic and environmental change in western Europe. We suggest the delay is related to the expansion of sea ice in the North Atlantic Ocean and the subsequent southward migration of the westerly wind system9. We further suggest that these hydrological changes amplified environmental change in western Europe at the onset of the Younger Dryas.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    , & The abrupt termination of the Younger Dryas climate event. Nature 339, 532–534 (1989).

  2. 2.

    , & The Younger Dryas cold event—was it synchronous over the North-Atlantic region. Radiocarbon 37, 63–70 (1995).

  3. 3.

    , , , & A mid-European decadal isotope-climate record from 15,500 to 5000 years BP. Science 284, 1654–1657 (1999).

  4. 4.

    , , , & Collapse and rapid resumption of Atlantic meridional circulation linked to deglacial climate changes. Nature 428, 834–837 (2004).

  5. 5.

    , & Freshwater outbursts to the oceans from glacial Lake Agassiz and their role in climate change during the last deglaciation. Quat. Sci. Rev. 21, 879–887 (2002).

  6. 6.

    et al. Synchronized terrestrial-atmospheric deglacial records around the North Atlantic. Science 274, 1155–1160 (1996).

  7. 7.

    et al. High resolution sediment and vegetation responses to Younger Dryas climate change in varved lake sediments from Meerfelder Maar, Germany. Quat. Sci. Rev. 18, 321–329 (1999).

  8. 8.

    et al. Lateglacial summer temperatures in the Northwest European lowlands: a chironomid record from Hijkermeer, the Netherlands. Quat. Sci. Rev. 26, 2420–2437 (2007).

  9. 9.

    et al. Rapid oceanic and atmospheric changes during the Younger Dryas cold period. Nature Geosci. 2, 202–205 (2009).

  10. 10.

    et al. A new Greenland ice core chronology for the last glacial termination. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 111, D06102 (2006).

  11. 11.

    et al. High-resolution Greenland Ice Core data show abrupt climate change happens in few years. Science 321, 680–684 (2008).

  12. 12.

    , & Precise 14C ages of the Vedde and Saksunarvatn ashes and the Younger Dryas boundaries from western Norway and their comparison with the Greenland Ice Core (GICC05) chronology. J. Quat. Sci. 28, 490–500 (2013).

  13. 13.

    , , & Volcanic ash reveals a time-transgressive abrupt climate change during the Younger Dryas. Geology 41, 1251–1254 (2013).

  14. 14.

    , , & Land-ice teleconnections of cold climatic periods during the last Glacial/Interglacial transition. Clim. Dynam. 16, 229–239 (2000).

  15. 15.

    , , , & An abrupt wind shift in western Europe at the onset of the Younger Dryas cold period. Nature Geosci. 1, 520–523 (2008).

  16. 16.

    , & The impact of the North Atlantic Ocean on the Younger Dryas climate in northwestern and central Europe. J. Quat. Sci. 13, 447–453 (1998).

  17. 17.

    , , & An n-alkane proxy for the sedimentary input of submerged/floating freshwater aquatic macrophytes. Org. Geochem. 31, 745–749 (2000).

  18. 18.

    , , , & δD values of n-alkanes in Tibetan lake sediments and aquatic macrophytes - A surface sediment study and application to a 16 ka record from Lake Koucha. Org. Geochem. 41, 779–790 (2010).

  19. 19.

    & Leaf epicuticular waxes. Science 156, 1322 (1967).

  20. 20.

    , , & Production of n-alkyl lipids in living plants and implications for the geologic past. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 75, 7472–7485 (2011).

  21. 21.

    et al. Molecular paleohydrology: Interpreting the hydrogen-isotopic composition of lipid biomarkers from photosynthesizing organisms. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 40, 221–249 (2012).

  22. 22.

    Oxygen and Hydrogen isotopes in the hydrologic cycle. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 24, 225–262 (1996).

  23. 23.

    et al. Leaf water deuterium enrichment shapes leaf wax n-alkane delta D values of angiosperm plants II: Observational evidence and global implications. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 111, 50–63 (2013).

  24. 24.

    , & δD values of individual n-alkanes from terrestrial plants along a climatic gradient—Implications for the sedimentary biomarker record. Org. Geochem. 37, 469–483 (2006).

  25. 25.

    et al. Paleohydrological changes during the last deglaciation in Northern Brazil. Quat. Sci. Rev. 26, 1004–1015 (2007).

  26. 26.

    & Palynological and oxygen isotope investigations on Late-Glacial sediment cores from Swiss lakes. Boreas 5, 109–117 (1976).

  27. 27.

    IAEA/WMO. Global Network of Isotopes in Precipitation (The GNIP Database, Bundesanstalt fuer Gewaesserkunde, 2006).

  28. 28.

    , , & Water vapour source impacts on oxygen isotope variability in tropical precipitation during Heinrich events. Clim. Past. 6, 325–343 (2010).

  29. 29.

    Stable isotopes in precipitation. Tellus 16, 436–468 (1964).

  30. 30.

    & Bio- and chronostratigraphy of the lateglacial in the Eifel region, Germany. Quat. Int. 61, 5–16 (1999).

Download references


This work was supported by a DFG Emmy-Noether grant to D.S. (SA1889/1-1). It is a contribution to the INTIMATE project, which is financially supported as EU COST Action ES0907 and to the Helmholtz Association (HGF) Climate Initiative REKLIM Topic 8, Rapid climate change derived from proxy data, and has used infrastructure of the HGF TERENO program. We thank the Maar Museum in Manderscheid for local support. Laboratory assistance was provided by N. Werner (UP), D. Noack and M. Gabriel (GFZ).

Author information


  1. Institute for Earth and Environmental Science, University of Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 24-25, Potsdam 14476, Germany

    • O. Rach
    •  & D. Sachse
  2. GFZ-German Research Centre for Geosciences, Section 5.2 Climate Dynamics and Landscape Evolution, Telegrafenberg, Potsdam 14473, Germany

    • A. Brauer
  3. GFZ-German Research Centre for Geosciences, Section 4.3 Organic Geochemistry, Telegrafenberg, Potsdam 14473, Germany

    • H. Wilkes


  1. Search for O. Rach in:

  2. Search for A. Brauer in:

  3. Search for H. Wilkes in:

  4. Search for D. Sachse in:


O.R. carried out the analysis and wrote the paper, A.B. was responsible for lake coring, provided the chronology and stratigraphy and wrote the paper, H.W. contributed to the analysis, data evaluation and writing, D.S. conceived the research, acquired financial support and wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to D. Sachse.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Information

About this article

Publication history






Further reading