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Increased seasonality in Middle East temperatures during the last interglacial period


The last interglacial period (about 125,000 years ago) is thought to have been at least as warm as the present climate1. Owing to changes in the Earth's orbit around the Sun, it is thought that insolation in the Northern Hemisphere varied more strongly than today on seasonal timescales2, which would have led to corresponding changes in the seasonal temperature cycle3. Here we present seasonally resolved proxy records using corals from the northernmost Red Sea, which record climate during the last interglacial period, the late Holocene epoch and the present. We find an increased seasonality in the temperature recorded in the last interglacial coral. Today, climate in the northern Red Sea is sensitive to the North Atlantic Oscillation4,5, a climate oscillation that strongly influences winter temperatures and precipitation in the North Atlantic region. From our coral records and simulations with a coupled atmosphere–ocean circulation model, we conclude that a tendency towards the high-index state of the North Atlantic Oscillation during the last interglacial period, which is consistent with European proxy records6,7,8, contributed to the larger amplitude of the seasonal cycle in the Middle East.

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Figure 1: Maps of the northernmost Red Sea, and X-radiographs of the two fossil Porites corals.
Figure 2: Time series of coral δ18O based on modern, late Holocene, and last interglacial Porites colonies from the northernmost Red Sea and their spectral properties.
Figure 3: Coral-based sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies for the northernmost Red Sea and ECHO-G model-based SST and AO/NAO indices.
Figure 4: Near-surface air temperature anomalies for the last interglacial and the late Holocene based on the coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation model ECHO-G.


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We thank M. Segl and her team for stable isotope analyses, A. Abu-Hilal and the Aqaba Marine Science Station for support within the Red Sea Programme, N. Rimbu for discussions, M. Zuther for X-ray diffraction analyses, N. Zatloukal for thin sections, J. Zinke for material, W. Hale for comments, and S. Legutke for support with the ECHO-G model. This work was supported by Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung through KIHZ and DEKLIM, and by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft through DFG Research Centre ‘Ocean Margins’ at Bremen University.

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Correspondence to Thomas Felis.

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Supplementary Tables S1 to S3: Coral dating, coral-based temperature seasonality, and coral growth rates; Supplementary Figures S1 to S11: Coral- and model-based results; Supplementary Discussion: Details on coral diagenesis as well as information on coral Sr/Ca analyses. (PDF 1333 kb)

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Felis, T., Lohmann, G., Kuhnert, H. et al. Increased seasonality in Middle East temperatures during the last interglacial period. Nature 429, 164–168 (2004).

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