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Insolation-driven changes in atmospheric circulation over the past 116,000 years in subtropical Brazil


During the last glacial period, large millennial-scale temperature oscillations—the ‘Dansgaard/Oeschger’ cycles—were the primary climate signal in Northern Hemisphere climate archives from the high latitudes to the tropics1,2,3,4,5,6. But whether the influence of these abrupt climate changes extended to the tropical and subtropical Southern Hemisphere, where changes in insolation are thought to be the main direct forcing of climate, has remained unclear. Here we present a high-resolution oxygen isotope record of a U/Th-dated stalagmite from subtropical southern Brazil, covering the past 116,200 years. The oxygen isotope signature varies with shifts in the source region and amount of rainfall in the area, and hence records changes in atmospheric circulation and convective intensity over South America. We find that these variations in rainfall source and amount are primarily driven by summer solar radiation, which is controlled by the Earth's precessional cycle. The Dansgaard/Oeschger cycles can be detected in our record and therefore we confirm that they also affect the tropical hydrological cycle, but that in southern subtropical Brazil, millennial-scale climate changes are not as dominant as they are in the Northern Hemisphere.

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Figure 1: Age versus depth model for stalagmite BT2.
Figure 2: Stable oxygen isotope profile for stalagmite BT2.


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We thank the Fundação de Amparo a Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP) for financial support, the CECAV/IBAMA for authorizing cave samples collection and the GEEP-Açungui Speleological Group and E. Barni for supporting field work.

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Correspondence to Francisco W. Cruz Jr.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figures S1-S4

This file contains four Supplementary Figures. Supplementary Figure S1 shows precipitation patterns for winter and summer in Brazil and Supplementary Figure S2 the mean monthly rainfall and oxygen isotope ratios for rainfall for southern Brazil. Supplementary Figure S3 details the carbon and oxygen isotope data for stalagmite BT2 that test for kinetic isotope effects and Supplementary Figure S4 spectral analyses of the BT2 oxygen isotope time series. (DOC 238 kb)

Supplementary Table S1

This file contains a Supplementary Table of Uranium and Thorium isotope data for stalagmite BT2. (PDF 39 kb)

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Cruz, F., Burns, S., Karmann, I. et al. Insolation-driven changes in atmospheric circulation over the past 116,000 years in subtropical Brazil. Nature 434, 63–66 (2005).

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