Letters to Nature

Nature 419, 821-824 (24 October 2002) | doi:10.1038/nature01132; Received 10 June 2002; Accepted 12 September 2002

Millennial-scale storminess variability in the northeastern United States during the Holocene epoch

Anders J. Noren1, Paul R. Bierman1, Eric J. Steig2, Andrea Lini1 & John Southon3,4

  1. Department of Geology, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont 05405, USA
  2. Quaternary Research Center and Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA
  3. Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California 94551, USA
  4. Present address: Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, California 92697-3100, USA

Correspondence to: Anders J. Noren1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to A.J.N. (e-mail: Email: anders.noren@alumni.carleton.edu).

For the purpose of detecting the effects of human activities on climate change, it is important to document natural change in past climate1. In this context, it has proved particularly difficult to study the variability in the occurrence of extreme climate events, such as storms with exceptional rainfall1. Previous investigations have established storm chronologies using sediment cores from single lakes2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, but such studies can be susceptible to local environmental bias. Here we date terrigenous inwash layers in cores from 13 lakes, which show that the frequency of storm-related floods in the northeastern United States has varied in regular cycles during the past 13,000 years (13 kyr), with a characteristic period of about 3 kyr. Our data show four peaks in storminess during the past 14 kyr, approximately 2.6, 5.8, 9.1 and 11.9 kyr ago. This pattern is consistent with long-term changes in the average sign of the Arctic Oscillation9, suggesting that modulation of this dominant atmospheric mode may account for a significant fraction of Holocene climate variability in North America and Europe.