1,500-year cycle in the Arctic Oscillation identified in Holocene Arctic sea-ice drift

Journal name:
Nature Geoscience
Year published:
Published online

Weather and climate in the Northern Hemisphere is profoundly affected by the Arctic Oscillation, a quasi-periodic fluctuation in atmospheric pressure that occurs on interannual to interdecadal timescales1. Reconstructions of the Arctic Oscillation over longer timescales have suggested additional centennial- to millennial-scale variations in the phase of the oscillation, but often with conflicting results2. Here we assess patterns of sea-ice drift in the Arctic Ocean over the past 8,000 years by geochemically determining the source of ice-rafted iron grains in a sediment core off the coast of Alaska. We identify pulses of sediment carried by sea ice from the Kara Sea3, which can reach the coast of Alaska only during a strongly positive Arctic Oscillation4, 5. On the basis of these observations, we construct a record of the Arctic Oscillation phase, and identify a 1,500-year periodicity similar to that found in Holocene records of ice-rafted debris6, 7 in the North Atlantic, distinct from a 1,000-year cycle that has been found in total solar irradiance8. We conclude that the 1,500-year cycle in the Arctic Oscillation arises from either internal variability of the climate system or as an indirect response to low-latitude solar forcing.

At a glance


  1. Map of the Arctic Ocean showing two sea-ice drift regimes.
    Figure 1: Map of the Arctic Ocean showing two sea-ice drift regimes.

    The TPD and the Beaufort Gyre (BG) depict endmember extremes for both a strongly −AO phase (solid yellow drift arrows) and a strongly +AO (dashed red arrows for Kara Sea ice and dashed maroon for Laptev Sea ice). Both of these Russian source areas receive most of their sediment from large rivers, the Ob (O.R.), the Yenisey (Y.R.) and the Lena (L.R.). Circles and triangles mark sediment sample locations for Russian source areas. Other potential source samples are shown in Supplementary Fig. S1.

  2. Plot of the Kara Fe grain weighted percentage in JPC16 compared with the TSI time series.
    Figure 2: Plot of the Kara Fe grain weighted percentage in JPC16 compared with the TSI time series.

    There is more than a threefold increase in the +AO between 2 and 2.2kyr BP (values of ~ 60% in middle panel) compared with the past hundred years (values less than 15% in top panel). Both records are interpolated to the same time step (0.02kyr). The heavy black curves are the 100yr average for both data sets.

  3. Time series analysis of the Kara Sea Fe grain weighted percentage and the TSI using MEM, which is superior for resolving narrowband cycles.
    Figure 3: Time series analysis of the Kara Sea Fe grain weighted percentage and the TSI using MEM, which is superior for resolving narrowband cycles.

    The dashed curves are the 0.99 confidence limit for both records. A prominent 1.5kyr cycle is present in the Kara data set but absent from the TSI.

  4. Wavelet analysis of the Kara Sea Fe grain spectra and the TSI showing the power of the cycles over the length of the time series and the complete absence of a 1.5-kyr cycle in the solar record.
    Figure 4: Wavelet analysis of the Kara Sea Fe grain spectra and the TSI showing the power of the cycles over the length of the time series and the complete absence of a 1.5-kyr cycle in the solar record.

    The triangular region below the red line is the cone of influence and signals above this area may be distorted owing to the fact that the time series does not extend beyond the interval 0–8kyr BP (see Supplementary Methods).


  1. Hurrell, J. W., Kushnir, Y., Ottersen, G. & Visbeck, M. (eds) The North Atlantic Oscillation: Climatic Significance and Environmental Impact (Geophys. Monogr. Ser., Vol. 134, 1–279, AGU, 2003).
  2. Luterbacher, J. et al. Extending the North Atlantic Oscillation reconstructions back to 1500. Atmos. Sci. Lett. 2, 114124 (2002).
  3. Darby, D. A. Sources of sediment found in sea ice from the western Arctic Ocean, new insights into processes of entrainment and drift patterns. J. Geophys. Res. 108, 3257 (2003).
  4. Mysak, L. A. Patterns of arctic circulation. Science 293, 12691270 (2001).
  5. Rigor, I. G., Wallace, J. M. & Colony, R. L. On the response of sea ice to the Arctic Oscillation. J. Clim. 15, 26482668 (2002).
  6. Bond, G. et al. A pervasive millennial-scale cycle in North Atlantic Holocene and glacial climates. Science 278, 12571266 (1997).
  7. Dansgaard, W. et al. Evidence for general instability of past climate from a 250-kyr ice core record. Nature 364, 218220 (1993).
  8. Vonmoos, M., Beer, J. & Muscheler, R. Large variations in Holocene solar activity: Constraints from 10Be in the Greenland Ice Core Project ice core. J. Geophys. Res. 111, A10105 (2006).
  9. Alley, R. B., Anandakrishnan, S. & Jung, P. Stochastic resonance in the North Atlantic. Paleoceanography 16, 190198 (2001).
  10. Steinhilber, F., Beer, J. & Frohlich, C. Total solar irradiance during the Holocene. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L19704 (2009).
  11. Jones, P. D., Jonsson, T. & Wheeler, D. Extension to the North Atlantic Oscillation using early instrumental pressure observations from Gibraltar and south-west Iceland. Int. J. Climatol. 17, 14331450 (1997).
  12. Olsen, J., Anderson, N. J. & Knudsen, M. F. Variability of the North Atlantic Oscillation over the past 5,200 years. Nature Geo. 5, 808812 (2012).
  13. Kim, J-H. et al. North Pacific and North Atlantic sea-surface temperature variability during the Holocene. Quat. Sci. Rev. 23, 21412154 (2004).
  14. Lamy, F., Arz, H. W., Bond, G. C., Bahr, A. & Pätzold, J. Multicentennial-scale hydrological changes in the Black Sea and northern Red Sea during the Holocene and the Arctic/North Atlantic Oscillation. Paleoceanography 21, PA1008 (2006).
  15. Darby, D. A. et al. The role of currents and sea ice in both slowly deposited central Arctic and rapidly deposited Chukchi-Alaskan margin sediments. Glob. Planet. Change 68, 5872 (2009).
  16. Darby, D. et al. New record of pronounced changes in Arctic Ocean circulation and climate. EOS 82, 603607 (2001).
  17. Rennermalm, A. K., Wood, E. F., Weaver, A. J., Eby, M. & Déry, S. J. Relative sensitivity of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation to river discharge into Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean. J. Geophys. Res. 112, G04S48 (2007).
  18. Bond, G. et al. Persistent solar influence on North Atlantic climate during the Holocene. Science 294, 21302133 (2001).
  19. Wagner, G. et al. Presence of the sola deVries cycle (~ 205 years) during the last ice age. Geophys. Res. Lett. 28, 303306 (2001).
  20. Shindell, D. T., Schmidt, G. A., Mann, M. E., Rind, D. & Waple, A. Solar forcing of regional climate change during the Maunder Minimum. Science 294, 21492152 (2001).
  21. Braun, H., Ditlevsen, P., Kurths, J. & Mudelsee, M. A two-parameter stochastic process for Dansgaard-Oeschger events. Paleoceanography 26, PA3214 (2011).
  22. Marchitto, T. M., Muscheler, R., Ortiz, J. D., Carriquiry, J. D. & van Geen, A. Dynamical response of the tropical Pacific Ocean to solar forcing during the early Holocene. Science 330, 13781381 (2010).
  23. Emile-Geay, J., Cane, M. A., Seager, R. A., Kaplan, R. & Almasi, P. El Niño as a mediator of the solar influence on climate. Paleoceanography 22, PA3210 (2007).
  24. Clement, A. C., Cane, M. A. & Seager, R. An orbitally driven tropical source for abrupt climate change. J. Clim. 14, 23692375 (2001).
  25. Cohen, J., Foster, J., Barlow, M., Saito, K. & Jones, J. Winter 2009–2010: A case study of an extreme Arctic Oscillation event. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L17707 (2010).
  26. Zhao, Y. & Liu, A. K. Arctic sea-ice motion and its relation to pressure field. J. Oceanogr. 63, 505515 (2007).
  27. Kempema, E. W., Reimnitz, E. & Barnes, P. W. Sea ice sediment entrainment and rafting in the Arctic. J. Sedim. Petrol. 59, 308317 (1989).
  28. Grigsby, J. D. Chemical fingerprinting in detrital ilmenite: a viable alternative in provenance research? J. Sed. Res. 62, 331337 (1992).
  29. Stuiver, M. & Reimer, P. J. Extended 14C database and revised CALIB radiocarbon calibration program. Radiocarbon 35, 215230 (1993).
  30. Baskaran, M. & Naidu, A. S. 210Pb-derived chronology and the fluxes of 210Pb and 137Cs isotopes into continental shelf sediments, east Chukchi Sea, Alaskan Arctic. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 59, 44354448 (1995).
  31. Krantz, H. & Schreiber, T. Nonlinear Time Series Analysis304 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997).

Download references

Author information


  1. Department of Ocean, Earth, & Atmospheric Sciences, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia 23529, USA

    • Dennis A. Darby &
    • Chester E. Grosch
  2. Department of Geology, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio 44242, USA

    • Joseph D. Ortiz
  3. Department of Earth Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089-0740, USA

    • Steven P. Lund


D.A.D. ran the Fe grain analyses, created the plots of the data, correlated the cores and wrote most of the paper. J.D.O. helped with the writing, figure preparation, statistical analyses, correlations, comparisons of the Fe grain data with other data and the connection with the low-latitude solar forcing of climate. C.E.G. did the time series analysis, helped with the figures dealing with these analyses and wrote the explanation of these methods in the Supplementary Information. S.P.L. sampled and analysed the cores for palaeomagnetic features and helped to correlate these between cores that are well dated by AMS radiocarbon.

Competing financial interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to:

Author details

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. Supplementary Information (2.5 mB)

    Supplementary Information

Additional data