Chinese stalagmite δ18O controlled by changes in the Indian monsoon during a simulated Heinrich event

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Nature Geoscience
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Carbonate cave deposits in India and China are assumed to record the intensity of monsoon precipitation, because the δ18O of the carbonate tracks the isotopic signature of precipitation. These records show spatially coherent variability throughout the last ice age and suggest that monsoon strength was altered during the millennial-scale climate variations known as Dansgaard–Oeschger events and during the Heinrich cooling events. Here we use a numerical climate model with an embedded oxygen-isotope model to assess what caused the shifts in the oxygen-isotope signature of precipitation during a climate perturbation designed to mimic a Heinrich event. Our simulations show that a sudden increase in North Atlantic sea-ice extent during the last glacial period leads to cooling in the Northern Hemisphere, reduced precipitation over the Indian basin and weakening of the Indian monsoon. The precipitation is isotopically heavier over India and the water vapour exported to China is isotopically enriched. Our model broadly reproduces the enrichment of δ18O over Northern India and East Asia evident in speleothem records during Heinrich events. We therefore conclude that changes in the δ18O of cave carbonates associated with Heinrich events reflect changes in the intensity of Indian rather than East Asian monsoon precipitation.

At a glance


  1. Annual averaged temperature and precipitation difference between the H1 and LGM.
    Figure 1: Annual averaged temperature and precipitation difference between the H1 and LGM.

    a, Surface temperature difference (°C). b, Precipitation difference (%). Markers indicate the locations of the following caves: Hulu (circle), Songjia (square), Dongge (star) and Timta (diamond). The lines in a indicate the annual climatological 50% sea-ice extent for H1 (white) and LGM (red) in the North Atlantic sector.

  2. [delta]18Op and summer precipitation difference between the H1 and LGM simulations.
    Figure 2: δ18Op and summer precipitation difference between the H1 and LGM simulations.

    a, Changes in δ18Op (VSMOW—Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water, in ‰). b, changes in MJJA precipitation (%). Changes are plotted only when total MJJA precipitation exceeds 50mm in the LGM simulation. Numbers in a indicate the observed change in δ18Oc (VPDB—Vienna PeeDee Belemnite) during H1 (YD) at Hulu (circle), Songjia (square), Dongge (star) and Timta (diamond) caves. In addition, b shows a schematic representation of the mechanisms involved in the transfer of the δ18O signal from the Indian Ocean to eastern Chinese caves.

  3. [delta]18Op and summer-precipitation difference between the H1 sensitivity experiments and LGM simulation.
    Figure 3: δ18Op and summer-precipitation difference between the H1 sensitivity experiments and LGM simulation.

    ad, Change with respect to LGM for the H1onlyIND (a,c) and H1exceptIND (b,d) experiments for δ18Op VSMOW (a,b, in ‰) and MJJA precipitation (c,d, in %). Changes are plotted only when total MJJA precipitation exceeds 50mm in the LGM simulation. Markers indicate the locations of the following caves: Hulu (circle), Songjia (square), Dongge (star) and Timta (diamond).


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Author information


  1. Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, NO-5007 Bergen, Norway

    • Francesco S. R. Pausata &
    • Kerim H. Nisancioglu
  2. Geophysical Institute, University of Bergen, NO-5007 Bergen, Norway

    • Francesco S. R. Pausata &
    • David S. Battisti
  3. Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-1640, USA

    • David S. Battisti &
    • Cecilia M. Bitz
  4. UNI Research, NO-5007 Bergen, Norway

    • Kerim H. Nisancioglu
  5. Present address: Joint Research Center, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, I-21027 Ispra (VA), Italy

    • Francesco S. R. Pausata


F.S.R.P. and D.S.B. conceived the study, analysed the results and wrote the manuscript. F.S.R.P. designed and carried out the experiments, and processed the model results. K.H.N. analysed the results and edited the manuscript. C.M.B. wrote the tagging code in the isotope module and set up CAM3 to run in LGM with isotopes and tagging.

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