A major advance of tropical Andean glaciers during the Antarctic cold reversal


The Younger Dryas stadial, a cold event spanning 12,800 to 11,500 years ago, during the last deglaciation, is thought to coincide with the last major glacial re-advance in the tropical Andes1. This interpretation relies mainly on cosmic-ray exposure dating of glacial deposits. Recent studies, however, have established new production rates2,3,4 for cosmogenic 10Be and 3He, which make it necessary to update all chronologies in this region1,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15 and revise our understanding of cryospheric responses to climate variability. Here we present a new 10Be moraine chronology in Colombia showing that glaciers in the northern tropical Andes expanded to a larger extent during the Antarctic cold reversal (14,500 to 12,900 years ago) than during the Younger Dryas. On the basis of a homogenized chronology of all 10Be and 3He moraine ages across the tropical Andes, we show that this behaviour was common to the northern and southern tropical Andes. Transient simulations with a coupled global climate model suggest that the common glacier behaviour was the result of Atlantic meridional overturning circulation variability superimposed on a deglacial increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. During the Antarctic cold reversal, glaciers advanced primarily in response to cold sea surface temperatures over much of the Southern Hemisphere. During the Younger Dryas, however, northern tropical Andes glaciers retreated owing to abrupt regional warming in response to reduced precipitation and land–surface feedbacks triggered by a weakened Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. Conversely, glacier retreat during the Younger Dryas in the southern tropical Andes occurred as a result of progressive warming, probably influenced by an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Considered with evidence from mid-latitude Andean glaciers16, our results argue for a common glacier response to cold conditions in the Antarctic cold reversal exceeding that of the Younger Dryas.

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Figure 1: The Ritacuba Negro glacier and studied sites.
Figure 2: Changes in the Ritacuba Negro glacier compared with proxy records.
Figure 3: Decadal temperature variations in the Ritacuba region correlated with global surface temperature.


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Financial support was provided by the French ANR El Paso programme no. 10-blan-68-01. The 10Be measurements were performed at the ASTER AMS national facility (CEREGE, Aix en Provence), which is supported by the INSU/CNRS, the French Ministry of Research and Higher Education, IRD and CEA. TRACE21 is supported by the P2C2 programme (NSF), the Abrupt Change Program (DOE), the EaSM programme (DOE) and the INCITE computing programme (DOE and NCAR). We thank M. Arnold, G. Aumaître and K. Keddadouche for their assistance during 10Be measurements.

Author information




V.J., D.B., J.L.C. and H.F. conducted the field work on Ritacuba Negro glacier; F.H., Z.L. and B.O.-B. performed the GCM simulations; M.V. and C.C. provided temperature correlation maps; D.L.B., R.B., P.-H.B., L.L. and L.M. participated in producing the cosmogenic data; L.M., P.-H.B. and V.J. updated and homogenized the previously published cosmogenic ages; P.-H.B., V.R., V.J., D.G. and D.L.B. interpreted the cosmogenic ages; and V.J., V.F., M.V., F.H. and D.L.B. contributed to writing the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to V. Jomelli.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Location of the 10Be samples collected on the Ritacuba Negro glacier.

Rejected samples in red. Dates are given in kyr with analytical uncertainties reported as 1 s.d. Photographs of 10Be sampled boulders are given in a separate file (Supplementary Information).

Extended Data Figure 2 Cosmogenic 10Be surface exposure ages of moraine boulders of Ritacuba Negro glacier.

Error bars on each symbol represent 1 s.d. analytical uncertainty only. Open symbols indicate outliers not included in the means. Thin black curves show relative probability distributions of individual ages and thick black curves represent the cumulative probability distributions of age populations. Uncertainties associated with the mean ages account for analytical uncertainties only.

Extended Data Figure 3 Age of the moraine versus moraine number.

Error bars on each symbol represent the analytical uncertainties. Red circles indicate samples used in this study; blue triangles indicate rejected samples.

Extended Data Figure 4 Decadal temperature variations in the Andes of Bolivia (73–65° W, 14–22° S) correlated with global temperature.

a, Correlations during the ACR period. b, Correlations during the Younger Dryas period. Statistically insignificant (P > 0.05) values are shown in white.

Extended Data Figure 5 Decadal precipitation variations in the Ritacuba region (75–71° W, 2–6° N) correlated with global precipitation.

a, Correlations during the ACR period. b, Correlations during the Younger Dryas period. Statistically insignificant (P > 0.05) values are shown in white.

Extended Data Figure 6 Mean precipitation change during the Younger Dryas.

Data for 12.9 kyr ago minus data for 12.0 kyr ago.

Extended Data Figure 7 Latent heat change during the Younger Dryas.

Data for 12.9 kyr ago minus data for 12.0 kyr ago.

Extended Data Figure 8 Simulated change in tree fraction during the Younger Dryas.

Data for 12.9 kyr ago minus data for 12.0 kyr ago.

Extended Data Figure 9 Surface temperature change during the Younger Dryas.

Data for 12.9 kyr ago minus data for 12.0 kyr ago.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains photo samples and data. (PDF 1122 kb)

Supplementary Tables

This file contains Supplementary Tables 1-7, which show homogenized chronologies. (XLS 434 kb)

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Jomelli, V., Favier, V., Vuille, M. et al. A major advance of tropical Andean glaciers during the Antarctic cold reversal. Nature 513, 224–228 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13546

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