Interdecadal variation in the extent of South Pacific tropical waters during the Younger Dryas event


During the Younger Dryas event, about 12,000 years ago, the Northern Hemisphere cooled by between 2 and 10 °C (refs 1, 2) whereas East Antarctica experienced warming3. But the spatial signature of the event in the southern mid-latitudes and tropics is less well known, as records are sparse and inconclusive4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16. Here we present high-resolution analyses of skeletal Sr/Ca and 18O/16O ratios for a giant fossil Diploastrea heliopora coral that was preserved in growth position on the raised reef terraces of Espiritu Santo Island, Vanuatu, in the southwestern tropical Pacific Ocean17. Our data indicate that sea surface temperatures in Vanuatu were on average 4.5 ± 1.3 °C cooler during the Younger Dryas event than today, with a significant interdecadal modulation. The amplified annual cycle of sea surface temperatures, relative to today, indicates that cooling was caused by the compression of tropical waters towards the Equator. The positive correlation in our record between the oxygen isotope ratios of sea water and sea surface temperatures suggests that the South Pacific convergence zone, which brings 18O-depleted precipitation to the area today, was not active during the Younger Dryas period.

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Figure 1: Coral Sr/Ca ratios versus SST.
Figure 2: Time series of SST and δ18OSW reconstructed at biannual resolution for the Younger Dryas Diploastrea.
Figure 3: Comparison of monthly resolution SST and δ18OSW reconstructed from the Younger Dryas Diploastrea.


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We thank A. Ganachaud and the participants of the ‘International workshop on the low frequency modulation of ENSO’ (Toulouse, September 2003) for discussions and comments; H. Scott-Gagan for help with the isotopic measurements; Y. Join, J. L. Laurent, M. Lardy, F. Taylor and J. Récy for providing assistance in the field; the government of Vanuatu for allowing us to drill in Espiritu Santo; and B. Suwargadi, S. Fallon, D. Whitford, G. Whitford and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) for support with coral drilling in Alor, Indonesia. The IRD, ANU and NSF supported this work.

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Correspondence to Thierry Corrège.

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Additional information

Coral data presented here are available at

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Contains supplementary information on method and error calculations, supplementary references, and the legend for the two supplementary figures. (DOC 23 kb)

Supplementary Figure 1

Shows time series of Sr/Ca versus SST for modern Diploastrea specimens from New Caledonia and Indonesia. These data are used in figure1 to calculate the Sr/Ca vs SST regression. (DOC 40 kb)

Supplementary Figure 2

Shows time series of Sr/Ca versus SST for modern Porites specimens from New Caledonia and Indonesia. These data are used in figure1 to calculate the Sr/Ca vs SST regression. (DOC 38 kb)

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Corrège, T., Gagan, M., Beck, J. et al. Interdecadal variation in the extent of South Pacific tropical waters during the Younger Dryas event. Nature 428, 927–929 (2004).

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