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The timing of the last deglaciation in North Atlantic climate records

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 22 November 2001

An Erratum to this article was published on 04 October 2001


To determine the mechanisms governing the last deglaciation and the sequence of events that lead to deglaciation, it is important to obtain a temporal framework that applies to both continental and marine climate records. Radiocarbon dating has been widely used to derive calendar dates for marine sediments, but it rests on the assumption that the ‘apparent age’ of surface water (the age of surface water relative to the atmosphere) has remained constant over time1,2. Here we present new evidence for variation in the apparent age of surface water (or reservoir age) in the North Atlantic ocean north of 40° N over the past 20,000 years. In two cores we found apparent surface-water ages to be larger than those of today by 1,230 ± 600 and 1,940 ± 750 years at the end of the Heinrich 1 surge event (15,000 years BP) and by 820 ± 430 to 1,010 ± 340 years at the end of the Younger Dryas cold episode. During the warm Bølling–Allerød period, between these two periods of large reservoir ages, apparent surface-water ages were comparable to present values. Our results allow us to reconcile the chronologies from ice cores and the North Atlantic marine records over the entire deglaciation period. Moreover, the data imply that marine carbon dates from the North Atlantic north of 40° N will need to be corrected for these highly variable effects.

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Figure 1: Age–depth relationships for the three North Atlantic deep sea cores.
Figure 2: Surface temperature records and reconstructed evolution of the surface reservoir age during the last 18 kyr.
Figure 3: δ18Ob records from the three North Atlantic cores.


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We thank E. Bard and G. Siani for discussions and comments. The data were acquired in collaboration with T. van Weering, J.-L. Turon, M. Labracherie and G. Auffret. We thank B. Lecoat and J. Tessier for processing the isotopic measurements. This study was supported by CNRS, CEA, INSU (PNEDC) and EU Environment Program.

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Correspondence to Claire Waelbroeck.

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Waelbroeck, C., Duplessy, JC., Michel, E. et al. The timing of the last deglaciation in North Atlantic climate records. Nature 412, 724–727 (2001).

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