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Millennial and orbital variations of El Niño/Southern Oscillation and high-latitude climate in the last glacial period


The El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon is believed to have operated continuously over the last glacial–interglacial cycle1. ENSO variability has been suggested to be linked to millennial-scale oscillations in North Atlantic climate during that time2,3, but the proposals disagree on whether increased frequency of El Niño events, the warm phase of ENSO, was linked to North Atlantic warm or cold periods. Here we present a high-resolution record of surface moisture, based on the degree of peat humification and the ratio of sedges to grass, from northern Queensland, Australia, covering the past 45,000 yr. We observe millennial-scale dry periods, indicating periods of frequent El Niño events (summer precipitation declines in El Niño years in northeastern Australia). We find that these dry periods are correlated to the Dansgaard–Oeschger events—millennial-scale warm events in the North Atlantic climate record—although no direct atmospheric connection from the North Atlantic to our site can be invoked. Additionally, we find climatic cycles at a semiprecessional timescale (11,900 yr). We suggest that climate variations in the tropical Pacific Ocean on millennial as well as orbital timescales, which determined precipitation in northeastern Australia, also exerted an influence on North Atlantic climate through atmospheric and oceanic teleconnections.

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Figure 1: Location of Lynch's crater relative to the West Pacific Warm Pool (WPWP).
Figure 2: Summary of palaeoenvironmental data from Lynch's crater, northern Queensland, Australia.
Figure 3: Cross-spectral and wavelet analysis of the Lynch's crater and GISP2 records for the past 50 kyr.
Figure 4: Comparison of Lynch's crater 1,490-yr and 11.9-kyr trends in absorption values, GISP2 δ18O values29 and the precessional component of orbital forcing1.


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We thank M. Gagan and B. Opdyke for suggestions about earlier drafts of this manuscript. C.S.M.T. acknowledges fellowships from the Australian Research Council and the Menzies Institute (King's College, London) held at the Australian National University. We thank S. Haberle and J. Luly for assistance in the field, G. Anderson and A. Crawford for permission to core Lynch's crater and E. Turton for laboratory preparations. This work was supported by The National Geographic, the ARC, Monash University, The Royal Society, ANSTO and NERC.

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Correspondence to Chris S. M. Turney.

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Supplementary Figure

Cross-spectral analysis of the Lynch’s Crater Cyperaceae/Poaceae and GISP2 δ18O records for the last 50 ka using the Blackman-Tukey approach. (JPG 40 kb)

Supplementary Figure Legend (DOC 23 kb)

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Turney, C., Kershaw, A., Clemens, S. et al. Millennial and orbital variations of El Niño/Southern Oscillation and high-latitude climate in the last glacial period. Nature 428, 306–310 (2004).

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