Mid-latitude interhemispheric hydrologic seesaw over the past 550,000 years


An interhemispheric hydrologic seesaw—in which latitudinal migrations of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) produce simultaneous wetting (increased precipitation) in one hemisphere and drying in the other—has been discovered in some tropical and subtropical regions1,2,3. For instance, Chinese and Brazilian subtropical speleothem (cave formations such as stalactites and stalagmites) records show opposite trends in time series of oxygen isotopes (a proxy for precipitation variability) at millennial to orbital timescales2,3, suggesting that hydrologic cycles were antiphased in the northerly versus southerly subtropics. This tropical to subtropical hydrologic phenomenon is likely to be an initial and important climatic response to orbital forcing3. The impacts of such an interhemispheric hydrologic seesaw on higher-latitude regions and the global climate system, however, are unknown. Here we show that the antiphasing seen in the tropical records is also present in both hemispheres of the mid-latitude western Pacific Ocean. Our results are based on a new 550,000-year record of the growth frequency of speleothems from the Korean peninsula, which we compare to Southern Hemisphere equivalents4. The Korean data are discontinuous and derived from 24 separate speleothems, but still allow the identification of periods of peak speleothem growth and, thus, precipitation. The clear hemispheric antiphasing indicates that the sphere of influence of the interhemispheric hydrologic seesaw over the past 550,000 years extended at least to the mid-latitudes, such as northeast Asia, and that orbital-timescale ITCZ shifts can have serious effects on temperate climate systems. Furthermore, our result implies that insolation-driven ITCZ dynamics may provoke water vapour and vegetation feedbacks in northern mid-latitude regions and could have regulated global climate conditions throughout the late Quaternary ice age cycles.

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Figure 1: Location of the study area and current atmospheric and oceanographic conditions.
Figure 2: Comparison of the growth frequency record from Korean speleothems with major palaeoclimatic records over the last 600 kyr.
Figure 3: Comparison of the Korean speleothem record with the Southern Hemisphere counterpart record from southeastern Australia.


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We thank the Kangwon National University Cave Investigation Club (KNUCIC) for collecting some of the speleothem samples, S. S. Lee for the supplementary statistical test and K. R. Ludwig for providing the analytical software package. This research was a part of the project titled K-IODP (KIGAM; Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources) funded by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, Korea. This project was also partially supported by Basic Research Project (GP2009-005) of KIGAM, grants NSFC 41230524 and NBRP 2013CB955902 (to H.C.) and US NSF grants 1103403 and 1337693 (to R.L.E. and H.C.).

Author information




K.-n.J. collected most of the information and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. K.S.W. discussed the palaeoclimatic implications of the data and improved the manuscript. S.Y. commented on the palaeoclimatic interpretations. D.Y.Y. and H.S.L. provided research grants to K.S.W. and K.-n.J. for obtaining data on caves and speleothems. Y.W. provided the stable isotope data, and H.C. and R.L.E. supplied some of the 230Th/234U dating results. All authors approved the submitted form of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kyung Sik Woo.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Temperature, humidity, and partial pressure of CO2 in the Daeya and Eden caves.

a, b, The atmospheric conditions in Daeya cave (a) and Eden cave (b). Source data

Extended Data Figure 2 Plot of 230Th dating results for all speleothem samples from the Korean peninsula.

Error bars show the 2σ analytical uncertainty, including the error from the detrital 230Th. Grey horizontal bars divide each sample. Source data

Extended Data Figure 3 Plot of relative probability constructed by summing the individual ages of all the dated samples.

Panel a shows all dates, and panel b presents the relative probability density, except for samples that grew only within the Holocene (Supplementary Table 1). Source data

Extended Data Figure 4 The age data along the growth axes of three speleothem samples.

The yellow vertical bars represent the minimum periods of major growth intervals. a, ED1 from Eden cave. b, JM3 from Joongmal cave. c, JM2 from Joongmal cave. Error bars represent 2σ analytical uncertainty with error from the detrital 230Th. Source data

Extended Data Figure 5 Frequency distributions of speleothem growth in the Northern Hemisphere.

a, North America and Europe49; b, United Kingdom50; c, South Korea. Also shown is the oxygen isotope record (d) from Devils Hole in Nevada, western USA17 (red line with dots). Source data

Extended Data Figure 6 Comparison of the growth frequency record from Korean speleothems with other high-resolution palaeoclimatic records from high-latitude polar to low-latitude tropical regions since the penultimate glacial termination.

a, δ18O record of Sanbao cave in central China15. b, Summer insolation at 65° N13. c, δ18O record from the North Greenland Ice Core Project (NGRIP)51; VSMOW is Vienna standard mean ocean water. d, Growth frequency record of Korean speleothems. S numbers indicate Mediterrean sapropel events. Periods of high growth frequency are shown in light brown. e, δ18O record for Soreq cave in the eastern Mediterranean region52. f, Radiolarian temperature record from marine sediment core RC11-120 in the Southern Ocean53. The present values of each proxy record are also shown by horizontal dashed lines on each proxy curve. Palaeoclimatic signals from mid-latitude regions display both low- and high-latitude characteristics. Source data

Extended Data Figure 7 Scenario of palaeoclimate changes linked with the interhemispheric hydrologic seesaw.

Background image is from NASA Eclipse Web Site (http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/transit/TV2004.html). a, Peak interglacial periods are characterized by large geographic variations in the seasonal ITCZ and strong atmospheric meridional overturning circulations. b, Stadial periods show intermediate climatic conditions between those of peak interglacial and full glacial periods. c, Interstadial periods show intermediate climatic conditions between those of peak interglacial and full glacial periods. d, Full glacial periods are characterized by small geographic variations in the seasonal ITCZ and weak atmospheric meridional overturning circulations. Conceptual geographic ranges of estimated permafrost and ice sheets during stadial periods are shown by grey- and white-coloured areas, respectively48. Also shown are the cave locations of active speleothem growth during each time period (red dots)4,15,21,42,49,52,54,55,56,57,58,59. See Methods for a detailed description of the scenario.

Extended Data Table 1 Information about the caves

Supplementary information

Supplementary Table 1

230Th dating results for speleothem samples from the Korean Peninsula. (XLSX 37 kb)

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Source data

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Jo, Kn., Woo, K., Yi, S. et al. Mid-latitude interhemispheric hydrologic seesaw over the past 550,000 years. Nature 508, 378–382 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13076

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