Monsoons are the dominant seasonal mode of climate variability in the tropics and are critically important conveyors of atmospheric moisture and energy at a global scale. Predicting monsoons, which have profound impacts on regions that are collectively home to more than 70 per cent of Earth’s population, is a challenge that is difficult to overcome by relying on instrumental data from only the past few decades. Palaeoclimatic evidence of monsoon rainfall dynamics across different regions and timescales could help us to understand and predict the sensitivity and response of monsoons to various forcing mechanisms. This evidence suggests that monsoon systems exhibit substantial regional character.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Plutonium isotopes in the North Western Pacific sediments coupled with radiocarbon in corals recording precise timing of the Anthropocene
Scientific Reports Open Access 01 July 2022
Scientific Reports Open Access 22 June 2022
Scientific Reports Open Access 16 December 2021
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Christensen, J. H. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) Ch.14, 1217–1308 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013)
Flato, G. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) Ch. 9, 741–866 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013)
Wang, B. et al. Northern Hemisphere summer monsoon intensified by mega-El Niño/southern oscillation and Atlantic multidecadal oscillation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 5347–5352 (2013)
Lee, J.-Y. & Wang, B. Future change of global monsoon in the CMIP5. Clim. Dyn. 42, 101–119 (2014)
Sperber, K. R. et al. The Asian summer monsoon: an intercomparison of CMIP5 vs. CMIP3 simulations of the late 20th century. Clim. Dyn. 41, 2711–2744 (2013)
Wang, B. et al. Rethinking Indian monsoon rainfall prediction in the context of recent global warming. Nature Commun. 6, 7154 (2015)
Asharaf, S. & Ahrens, B. Indian summer monsoon rainfall processes in climate change scenarios. J. Clim. 28, 5414–5429 (2015)
Trenberth, K. E., Stepaniak, D. P. & Caron, J. M. The global monsoon as seen through the divergent atmospheric circulation. J. Clim. 13, 3969–3993 (2000)
Wang, B. & Ding, Q. Global monsoon: dominant mode of annual variation in the tropics. Dyn. Atmos. Oceans 44, 165–183 (2008). On the basis of instrumental records, this study introduces the monsoon precipitation index and defines the global monsoon precipitation domain.
Dallmeyer, A. et al. The evolution of sub-monsoon systems in the Afro-Asian monsoon region during the Holocene—comparison of different transient climate model simulations. Clim. Past 11, 305–326 (2015)
Caley, T. et al. Orbital timing of the Indian, East Asian and African boreal monsoons and the concept of a ‘global monsoon’. Quat. Sci. Rev. 30, 3705–3715 (2011)
Donohoe, A., Marshall, J., Ferreira, D. & McGee, D. The relationship between ITCZ location and cross-equatorial atmospheric heat transport: from the seasonal cycle to the Last Glacial Maximum. J. Clim. 26, 3597–3618 (2013)
Chen, X. & Zhou, T. Distinct effects of global mean warming and regional sea surface warming pattern on projected uncertainty in the South Asian summer monsoon. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 9433–9439 (2015)
Kutzbach, J. E. Monsoon climate of the early Holocene: climate experiment with the Earth’s orbital parameters for 9000 years ago. Science 214, 59–61 (1981); erratum 214, 606 (1981)
Claussen, M. & Gayler, V. The greening of the Sahara during the mid-Holocene: results of an interactive atmosphere-biome model. Global Ecol. Biogeogr. Lett. 6, 369–377 (1997)
deMenocal, P. et al. Abrupt onset and termination of the African Humid Period: rapid climate responses to gradual insolation forcing. Quat. Sci. Rev. 19, 347–361 (2000)
Cheng, H., Sinha, A., Wang, X., Cruz, F. & Edwards, R. The Global Paleomonsoon as seen through speleothem records from Asia and the Americas. Clim. Dyn. 39, 1045–1062 (2012). This review compares the cave stalagmite records from various monsoon domains and introduces the concept of a global palaeo-monsoon.
Wang, P. X. et al. The global monsoon across timescales: coherent variability of regional monsoons. Clim. Past 10, 2007–2052 (2014)
Clemens, S. C., Prell, W. L. & Sun, Y. Orbital-scale timing and mechanisms driving late Pleistocene Indo-Asian summer monsoons: reinterpreting cave speleothem δ18O. Paleoceanography 25, PA4207 (2010)
Battisti, D. S., Ding, Q. & Roe, G. H. Coherent pan-Asian climatic and isotopic response to orbital forcing of tropical insolation. J. Geophys. Res. Atmospheres 119, 11997–12020 (2014)
Caley, T., Roche, D. M. & Renssen, H. Orbital Asian summer monsoon dynamics revealed using an isotope-enabled global climate model. Nature Commun. 5, 5371 (2014)
Chiang, J. C. H. et al. Role of seasonal transitions and westerly jets in East Asian paleoclimate. Quat. Sci. Rev. 108, 111–129 (2015)
Cai, Y. et al. Variability of stalagmite-inferred Indian monsoon precipitation over the past 252,000 y. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 2954–2959 (2015). This paper explains differences in stalagmite records from the South Asian and East Asian monsoon domains by means of isotope-enabled model simulations.
Merlis, T. M., Schneider, T., Bordoni, S. & Eisenman, I. The tropical precipitation response to orbital precession. J. Clim. 26, 2010–2021 (2013)
Bosmans, J. H. C., Drijfhout, S. S., Tuenter, E., Hilgen, F. J. & Lourens, L. J. Response of the North African summer monsoon to precession and obliquity forcings in the EC-Earth GCM. Clim. Dyn. 44, 279–297 (2015)
Bosmans, J. H. C., Hilgen, F. J., Tuenter, E. & Lourens, L. J. Obliquity forcing of low-latitude climate. Clim. Past 11, 1335–1346 (2015)
deMenocal, P. B. Plio-Pleistocene African climate. Science 270, 53–59 (1995)
Molnar, P., Boos, W. R. & Battisti, D. S. Orographic controls on climate and paleoclimate of Asia: thermal and mechanical roles for the Tibetan plateau. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 38, 77–102 (2010). This study explains the difference between the South Asian (tropical) monsoon and the East Asian (subtropical) monsoon, and the role of the Tibetan plateau.
Muri, H., Berger, A., Yin, Q., Karami, M. P. & Barriat, P.-Y. The climate of the MIS-13 interglacial according to HadCM3. J. Clim. 26, 9696–9712 (2013)
Metcalfe, S. E., Barron, J. A. & Davies, S. J. The Holocene history of the North American Monsoon: ‘known knowns’ and ‘known unknowns’ in understanding its spatial and temporal complexity. Quat. Sci. Rev. 120, 1–27 (2015)
Mantsis, D. F. et al. The response of large-scale circulation to obliquity-induced changes in meridional heating gradients. J. Clim. 27, 5504–5516 (2014)
Baker, P. A. & Fritz, S. C. Nature and causes of Quaternary climate variation of tropical South America. Quat. Sci. Rev. 124, 31–47 (2015)
Rachmayani, R., Prange, M. & Schulz, M. Intra-interglacial climate variability: model simulations of Marine Isotope Stages 1, 5, 11, 13, and 15. Clim. Past 12, 677–695 (2016)
Liu, X. & Battisti, D. S. The influence of orbital forcing of tropical insolation on the climate and isotopic composition of precipitation in South America. J. Clim. 28, 4841–4862 (2015)
Dallmeyer, A., Claussen, M. & Otto, J. Contribution of oceanic and vegetation feedbacks to Holocene climate change in monsoonal Asia. Clim. Past 6, 195–218 (2010)
Braconnot, P., Marzin, C., Grégoire, L., Mosquet, E. & Marti, O. Monsoon response to changes in Earth’s orbital parameters: comparisons between simulations of the Eemian and of the Holocene. Clim. Past 4, 281–294 (2008)
Schneider, T., Bischoff, T. & Haug, G. H. Migrations and dynamics of the intertropical convergence zone. Nature 513, 45–53 (2014). This paper reviews the current understanding of ITCZ shifts on modern and palaeoclimatic timescales, which is based on considerations of atmospheric energy balance.
Chiang, J. H. & Bitz, C. Influence of high latitude ice cover on the marine Intertropical Convergence Zone. Clim. Dyn. 25, 477–496 (2005)
Chiang, J. C. H., Biasutti, M. & Battisti, D. S. Sensitivity of the Atlantic Intertropical Convergence Zone to Last Glacial Maximum boundary conditions. Paleoceanography 18, 1094 (2003)
Rahmstorf, S. Ocean circulation and climate during the past 120,000 years. Nature 419, 207–214 (2002)
Gottschalk, J. et al. Abrupt changes in the southern extent of North Atlantic Deep Water during Dansgaard–Oeschger events. Nature Geosci. 8, 950–954 (2015)
Zhang, X., Prange, M., Merkel, U. & Schulz, M. Spatial fingerprint and magnitude of changes in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation during marine isotope stage 3. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 1903–1911 (2015)
Zhisheng, A. et al. Global monsoon dynamics and climate change. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 43, 29–77 (2015)
McManus, J. F., Francois, R., Gherardi, J. M., Keigwin, L. D. & Brown-Leger, S. Collapse and rapid resumption of Atlantic meridional circulation linked to deglacial climate changes. Nature 428, 834–837 (2004)
Liu, Z. et al. Transient simulation of last deglaciation with a new mechanism for Bølling–Allerød warming. Science 325, 310–314 (2009)
Otto-Bliesner, B. L. et al. Coherent changes of southeastern equatorial and northern African rainfall during the last deglaciation. Science 346, 1223–1227 (2014). This study provides a mechanistic understanding of the changes in deglacial tropical African precipitation based on the transient TraCE-21k model simulation.
Goswami, B. N., Madhusoodanan, M. S., Neema, C. P. & Sengupta, D. A physical mechanism for North Atlantic SST influence on the Indian summer monsoon. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L02706 (2006)
Zhang, R. & Delworth, T. L. Simulated tropical response to a substantial weakening of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation. J. Clim. 18, 1853–1860 (2005)
Marzin, C., Kallel, N., Kageyama, M., Duplessy, J.-C. & Braconnot, P. Glacial fluctuations of the Indian monsoon and their relationship with North Atlantic climate: new data and modelling experiments. Clim. Past 9, 2135–2151 (2013)
Mohtadi, M. et al. North Atlantic forcing of tropical Indian Ocean climate. Nature 509, 76–80 (2014)
Ting, M., Kushnir, Y., Seager, R. & Li, C. Robust features of Atlantic multi-decadal variability and its climate impacts. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L17705 (2011). This work analyses the patterns of global precipitation response to AMO variability in climate models and observational data.
Berkelhammer, M. et al. Persistent multidecadal power of the Indian Summer Monsoon. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 290, 166–172 (2010)
Vuille, M. et al. A review of the South American monsoon history as recorded in stable isotopic proxies over the past two millennia. Clim. Past 8, 1309–1321 (2012)
Shanahan, T. M. et al. Atlantic forcing of persistent drought in West Africa. Science 324, 377–380 (2009)
Rahmstorf, S. et al. Exceptional twentieth-century slowdown in Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation. Nature Clim. Change 5, 475–480 (2015)
Russell, J. M. et al. Glacial forcing of central Indonesian hydroclimate since 60,000 y B.P. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 5100–5105 (2014)
Vallé, F., Dupont, L. M., Leroy, S. A. G., Schefuß, E. & Wefer, G. Pliocene environmental change in West Africa and the onset of strong NE trade winds (ODP Sites 659 and 658). Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 414, 403–414 (2014)
Zhang, R. et al. Mid-Pliocene East Asian monsoon climate simulated in the PlioMIP. Clim. Past 9, 2085–2099 (2013)
Kumar, K. K., Rajagopalan, B., Hoerling, M., Bates, G. & Cane, M. Unraveling the mystery of Indian monsoon failure during El Niño. Science 314, 115–119 (2006)
Yeh, S.-W. et al. El Niño in a changing climate. Nature 461, 511–514 (2009)
Lachniet, M. S., Bernal, J. P., Asmerom, Y., Polyak, V. & Piperno, D. A 2400 yr Mesoamerican rainfall reconstruction links climate and cultural change. Geology 40, 259–262 (2012)
Douglas, P. M. J. et al. Drought, agricultural adaptation, and sociopolitical collapse in the Maya Lowlands. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 5607–5612 (2015)
Bernal, J. P. et al. A speleothem record of Holocene climate variability from southwestern Mexico. Quat. Res. 75, 104–113 (2011)
Polissar, P. J., Abbott, M. B., Wolfe, A. P., Vuille, M. & Bezada, M. Synchronous interhemispheric Holocene climate trends in the tropical Andes. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 14551–14556 (2013)
Asmerom, Y., Polyak, V. J., Rasmussen, J. B. T., Burns, S. J. & Lachniet, M. Multidecadal to multicentury scale collapses of Northern Hemisphere monsoons over the past millennium. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 9651–9656 (2013)
Myers, C. G. et al. Northeast Indian stalagmite records Pacific decadal climate change: implications for moisture transport and drought in India. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 4124–4132 (2015)
Cook, E. R. et al. Asian monsoon failure and megadrought during the last millennium. Science 328, 486–489 (2010)
Shen, M. et al. Evaporative cooling over the Tibetan Plateau induced by vegetation growth. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 9299–9304 (2015)
Cook, B. I. et al. Pre-Columbian deforestation as an amplifier of drought in Mesoamerica. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L16706 (2012)
Fu, C. Potential impacts of human-induced land cover change on East Asia monsoon. Global Planet. Change 37, 219–229 (2003)
Niyogi, D., Kishtawal, C., Tripathi, S. & Govindaraju, R. S. Observational evidence that agricultural intensification and land use change may be reducing the Indian summer monsoon rainfall. Water Resour. Res. 46, W03533 (2010)
Yamashima, R., Matsumoto, J., Takata, K. & Takahashi, H. G. Impact of historical land-use changes on the Indian summer monsoon onset. Int. J. Climatol. 35, 2419–2430 (2015)
Devaraju, N., Bala, G. & Modak, A. Effects of large-scale deforestation on precipitation in the monsoon regions: remote versus local effects. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 3257–3262 (2015). This model study suggests that large-scale deforestation results in a southward shift of the ITCZ and a decrease in monsoon rainfall in the Northern Hemisphere.
Charney, J. G. Dynamics of deserts and drought in the Sahel. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 101, 193–202 (1975)
Kröpelin, S. et al. Climate-driven ecosystem succession in the Sahara: the past 6000 years. Science 320, 765–768 (2008)
Shanahan, T. M. et al. The time-transgressive termination of the African Humid Period. Nature Geosci. 8, 140–144 (2015)
Liu, Z. et al. Simulating the transient evolution and abrupt change of Northern Africa atmosphere–ocean–terrestrial ecosystem in the Holocene. Quat. Sci. Rev. 26, 1818–1837 (2007)
Rachmayani, R., Prange, M. & Schulz, M. North African vegetation–precipitation feedback in early and mid-Holocene climate simulations with CCSM3-DGVM. Clim. Past 11, 175–185 (2015)
Swann, A. L. S., Fung, I. Y., Liu, Y. & Chiang, J. C. H. Remote vegetation feedbacks and the mid-Holocene green Sahara. J. Clim. 27, 4857–4870 (2014)
Gray, L. J. et al. Solar influences on climate. Rev. Geophys. 48, RG4001 (2010). This review discusses the contribution of solar variation to monsoon and North Atlantic climate change on decadal-to-centennial timescales.
Schmidt, G. A. et al. Using palaeo-climate comparisons to constrain future projections in CMIP5. Clim. Past 10, 221–250 (2014)
van Loon, H. & Meehl, G. A. The Indian summer monsoon during peaks in the 11 year sunspot cycle. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L13701 (2012)
Zhao, L. & Wang, J.-S. Robust response of the East Asian monsoon rainband to solar variability. J. Clim. 27, 3043–3051 (2014)
Wang, Y. et al. The Holocene Asian monsoon: links to solar changes and North Atlantic climate. Science 308, 854–857 (2005)
Fleitmann, D. et al. Holocene forcing of the Indian monsoon recorded in a stalagmite from southern Oman. Science 300, 1737–1739 (2003)
Meehl, G. A., Washington, W. M., Wigley, T. M. L., Arblaster, J. M. & Dai, A. Solar and greenhouse gas forcing and climate response in the twentieth century. J. Clim. 16, 426–444 (2003)
Steinke, S. et al. Mid- to late-Holocene Australian–Indonesian summer monsoon variability. Quat. Sci. Rev. 93, 142–154 (2014)
Sigl, M. et al. Timing and climate forcing of volcanic eruptions for the past 2,500 years. Nature 523, 543–549 (2015)
Winter, A. et al. Persistent drying in the tropics linked to natural forcing. Nature Commun. 6, 7627 (2015)
Ridley, H. E. et al. Aerosol forcing of the position of the intertropical convergence zone since ad 1550. Nature Geosci. 8, 195–200 (2015)
Man, W., Zhou, T. & Jungclaus, J. H. Effects of large volcanic eruptions on global summer climate and East Asian monsoon changes during the last millennium: analysis of MPI-ESM simulations. J. Clim. 27, 7394–7409 (2014)
Anchukaitis, K. J. et al. Influence of volcanic eruptions on the climate of the Asian monsoon region. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L22703 (2010)
Park, J.-Y., Bader, J. & Matei, D. Northern-hemispheric differential warming is the key to understanding the discrepancies in the projected Sahel rainfall. Nature Commun. 6, 5985 (2015)
Mohtadi, M. et al. Glacial to Holocene swings of the Australian–Indonesian monsoon. Nature Geosci. 4, 540–544 (2011)
Collins, J. A. et al. Estimating the hydrogen isotopic composition of past precipitation using leaf-waxes from western Africa. Quat. Sci. Rev. 65, 88–101 (2013)
Bollasina, M. A., Ming, Y. & Ramaswamy, V. Anthropogenic aerosols and the weakening of the South Asian summer monsoon. Science 334, 502–505 (2011)
Yuan, Y. & Yang, S. Impacts of different types of El Niño on the East Asian climate: focus on ENSO cycles. J. Clim. 25, 7702–7722 (2012)
Bordoni, S. & Schneider, T. Monsoons as eddy-mediated regime transitions of the tropical overturning circulation. Nature Geosci. 1, 515–519 (2008)
Gadgil, S. The Indian monsoon and its variability. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 31, 429–467 (2003)
Zhang, L. & Wang, C. Multidecadal North Atlantic sea surface temperature and Atlantic meridional overturning circulation variability in CMIP5 historical simulations. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 118, 5772–5791 (2013)
We are grateful to J. H. C. Bosmans for providing Fig. 3. We thank F. He, Z. Liu and B. Otto-Bliesner for making the TraCE-21k model output available via the Earth System Grid (National Center for Atmospheric Research). This study is supported by the DFG Research Centre/Cluster of Excellence ‘The Ocean in the Earth System’ and the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) grants 03G0228A (EISPAC), 03G0828A (TransGeoBiOc) and 03G0484A (INVERS).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Mohtadi, M., Prange, M. & Steinke, S. Palaeoclimatic insights into forcing and response of monsoon rainfall. Nature 533, 191–199 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature17450
This article is cited by
Plutonium isotopes in the North Western Pacific sediments coupled with radiocarbon in corals recording precise timing of the Anthropocene
Scientific Reports (2022)
Scientific Reports (2022)
Tropical forcing orbital-scale precipitation variations revealed by a maar lake record in South China
Climate Dynamics (2022)
Nature Climate Change (2021)
Scientific Reports (2021)