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Wet periods in northeastern Brazil over the past 210 kyr linked to distant climate anomalies


The tropics are the main source of the atmosphere's sensible and latent heat, and water vapour, and are therefore important for reconstructions of past climate1. But long, accurately dated records of southern tropical palaeoclimate, which would allow the establishment of climatic connections to distant regions, have not been available. Here we present a 210,000-year (210-kyr) record of wet periods in tropical northeastern Brazil—a region that is currently semi-arid. The record is obtained from speleothems and travertine deposits that are accurately dated using the U/Th method. We find wet periods that are synchronous with periods of weak East Asian summer monsoons2, cold periods in Greenland3, Heinrich events in the North Atlantic4 and periods of decreased river runoff to the Cariaco basin5. We infer that the wet periods may be explained with a southward displacement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone. This widespread synchroneity of climate anomalies suggests a relatively rapid global reorganization of the ocean–atmosphere system. We conclude that the wet periods probably affected rainforest distribution, as plant fossils show that forest expansion occurred during these intermittent wet intervals, and opened a forest corridor6,7,8 between the Amazonian and Atlantic rainforests.

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Figure 1: Location of study area, present ITCZ seasonal positions, dominant wind directions, ocean surface currents, and main vegetation distributions in Brazil (modified from ref. 8). Also shown is the Brazilian geographical boundary (black line).
Figure 2: Comparison of the growth patterns of speleothems from northeastern Brazil with events recorded in several Northern Hemisphere palaeoclimate archives.
Figure 3: Comparison of growth intervals of speleothem and young travertine from northeastern Brazil, and insolation variation at 10° S over the austral autumn30.


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We thank G. Comer and W. Broecker for their support of our work. We acknowledge the help of many friends from Grupo Bambuí de Pesquisas Espeleológicas who participated in the field trips, sampling and geological observations. Cave sampling was performed with permission from IBAMA/CECAV; we are grateful for the collaboration of land owners and local people. This work was supported by the NSF, the Gary Comer Science & Education Foundation and the CNPq of Brazil.

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Correspondence to Xianfeng Wang.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Table 1

Uranium and thorium isotopic compositions and 230Th ages for northeastern Brazil speleothems. (PDF 105 kb)

Supplementary Table 2

Uranium and thorium isotopic compositions and 230Th ages for northeastern Brazil travertines. (PDF 93 kb)

Supplementary Figure 1

Plot of measured δ234U versus 230Th/238U activity ratio of northeastern Brazil travertine samples. (PDF 27 kb)

Supplementary Figure 2

Stalagmite TBV-40 with ages and depths (collected from Toca da Boa Vista cave). (PDF 104 kb)

Supplementary Figure 3

Young travertine deposits from the Salitre river valley. (PDF 124 kb)

Supplementary References (PDF 11 kb)

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Wang, X., Auler, A., Edwards, R. et al. Wet periods in northeastern Brazil over the past 210 kyr linked to distant climate anomalies. Nature 432, 740–743 (2004).

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