Oxygen isotope records from Chinese caves characterize changes in both the Asian monsoon and global climate. Here, using our new speleothem data, we extend the Chinese record to cover the full uranium/thorium dating range, that is, the past 640,000 years. The record’s length and temporal precision allow us to test the idea that insolation changes caused by the Earth’s precession drove the terminations of each of the last seven ice ages as well as the millennia-long intervals of reduced monsoon rainfall associated with each of the terminations. On the basis of our record’s timing, the terminations are separated by four or five precession cycles, supporting the idea that the ‘100,000-year’ ice age cycle is an average of discrete numbers of precession cycles. Furthermore, the suborbital component of monsoon rainfall variability exhibits power in both the precession and obliquity bands, and is nearly in anti-phase with summer boreal insolation. These observations indicate that insolation, in part, sets the pace of the occurrence of millennial-scale events, including those associated with terminations and ‘unfinished terminations’.
This is a preview of subscription content
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.
Cheng, H., Sinha, A., Wang, X. F. & Cruz, F. W. The global paleomonsoon as seen through speleothem records from Asia and South America. Clim. Dyn. 39, 1045–1062 (2012)
Wang, Y. J. et al. A high-resolution absolute-dated Late Pleistocene monsoon record from Hulu Cave, China. Science 294, 2345–2348 (2001)
Wang, Y. J. et al. Millennial- and orbital- scale changes in the East Asian Monsoon over the past 224,000 years. Nature 451, 1090–1093 (2008)
Cheng, H. et al. Ice age terminations. Science 326, 248–252 (2009)
Cheng, H. et al. Improvements in 230Th dating, 230Th and 234U half-life values, and U-Th isotopic measurements by multi-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 371–372, 82–91 (2013)
Kutzbach, J. E., Liu, X. D., Liu, Z. Y. & Chen, G. S. Simulation of the evolutionary response of global summer monsoons to orbital forcing over the past 280,000 years. Clim. Dyn. 30, 567–579 (2008)
McManus, J. F., Oppo, D. W. & Cullen, J. L. A. 0.5-million-year record of millennial- scale climate variability in the North Atlantic. Science 283, 971–975 (1999)
Barker, S. et al. 800,000 years of abrupt climate variability. Science 334, 347–351 (2011)
Hays, J. D., Imbrie, J. & Shackleton, N. J. Variations in the Earth’s orbit: pacemaker of the ice ages. Science 194, 1121–1132 (1976)
Raymo, M. E. Glacial puzzles. Science 281, 1467–1468 (1998)
Maslin, M. A. & Ridgewell, A. in Early-Middle Pleistocene Transitions: The Land-Ocean Evidence (eds Head, M. J. & Gibbard, P. L. ) 19–34 (Vol. 247, Spec. Publ. Geol. Soc. Lond., 2005)
Huybers, P. & Wunsch, C. Obliquity pacing of the late Pleistocene glacial terminations. Nature 434, 491–494 (2005)
Bintanja, R. & van de Wal, R. S. W. North American ice-sheet dynamics and the onset of 100,000-year glacial cycles. Nature 454, 869–872 (2008)
Imbrie, J. & Imbrie, J. Modeling the climatic response to orbital variations. Science 207, 943–953 (1980)
Paillard, D. The timing of Pleistocene glaciations from a simple multiple-state climate model. Nature 391, 378–381 (1998)
Huybers, P. Combined obliquity and precession pacing of late Pleistocene deglaciations. Nature 480, 229–232 (2011)
Spratt, R. M. & Lisiecki, L. E. A Late Pleistocene sea level stack. Clim. Past Discuss. 11, 3699–3728 (2015)
Jouzel, J. et al. Orbital and millennial Antarctic climate variability over the past 800,000 years. Science 317, 793–796 (2007)
Loulergue, L. et al. Orbital and millennial-scale features of atmospheric CH4 over the past 800 000 years. Nature 453, 383–386 (2008)
Bereiter, B. et al. Revision of the EPICA Dome C CO2 record from 800 to 600 kyr before present. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 542–549 (2015)
Candy, I., Schreve, D. C., Sherriff, J. & Tye, G. J. Marine Isotope Stage 11: Palaeoclimates, palaeoenvironments and its role as an analogue for the current interglacial. Earth Sci. Rev. 128, 18–51 (2014)
Yuan, D. X. et al. Timing, duration, and transitions of the Last Interglacial Asian monsoon. Science 304, 575–578 (2004)
Liu, Z. Y. et al. Chinese cave records and the East Asia Summer Monsoon. Quat. Sci. Rev. 83, 115–128 (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)
Orland, I. J. et al. Direct measurements of deglacial monsoon strength in a Chinese stalagmite. Geology 43, 555–558 (2015)
Saltzman, B., Hansen, A. & Maasch, K. The late Quaternary glaciations as the response of a three-component feedback system to Earth-orbital forcing. J. Atmos. Sci. 41, 3380–3389 (1984)
Toggweiler, J. R. Origin of the 100,000-year timescale in Antarctic temperatures and atmospheric CO2 . Paleoceanography 23, PA2211 (2008)
Denton, G. H. et al. The last glacial termination. Science 328, 1652–1656 (2010)
Wolff, E. W., Fischer, H. & Röthlisberger, R. Glacial terminations as southern warmings without northern control. Nat. Geosci. 2, 206–209 (2009)
Schaefer, J. M. et al. The southern glacial maximum 65,000 years ago and its unfinished termination. Quat. Sci. Rev. 114, 52–60 (2015)
Raymo, M. E. The timing of major climate terminations. Paleoceanography 12, 577–585 (1997)
Imbrie, J. et al. On the structure and origin of major glaciation cycles 2. The 100,000-year cycle. Paleoceanography 8, 699–735 (1993)
Parrenin, F. & Paillard, D. Amplitude and phase of glacial cycles from a conceptual model. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 214, 243–250 (2003)
Abe-Ouchi, A. et al. Insolation-driven 100,000-year glacial cycles and hysteresis of ice-sheet volume. Nature 500, 190–193 (2013)
Siddall, M., Rohling, E. J., Blunier, T. & Spahni, R. Patterns of millennial variability over the last 500 ka. Clim. Past 6, 295–303 (2010)
Broecker, W. S. Paleocean circulation during the last deglaciation: a bipolar seesaw? Paleoceanography 13, 119–121 (1998)
Jansen, J. H. F., Kuijpers, A. & Troelstra, S. R. A Mid-Brunhes climatic event: long-term changes in global atmosphere and ocean circulation. Science 232, 619–622 (1986)
Meckler, A. N., Clarkson, M. O., Cobb, K. M., Sodemann, H. & Adkins, J. F. Interglacial hydroclimate in the tropical West Pacific through the late Pleistocene. Science 336, 1301–1304 (2012)
Severinghaus, J. P., Beaudette, R., Headly, M. A., Taylor, K. & Brook, E. J. Oxygen-18 of O2 records the impact of abrupt climate change on the terrestrial biosphere. Science 324, 1431–1434 (2009)
van Breukelen, M. R., Vonhof, H. B., Hellstrom, J. C., Wester, W. C. G. & Kroon, D. Fossil dripwater in stalagmites reveals Holocene temperature and rainfall variation in Amazonia. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 275, 54–60 (2008)
WAIS Divide Project Members. Onset of deglacial warming in West Antarctica driven by local orbital forcing. Nature 500, 440–444 (2013)
Broecker, W. S. & Denton, G. H. The role of ocean-atmosphere reorganizations in glacial cycles. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 53, 2465–2501 (1989)
Hoogakker, B. A. A. et al. Dynamics of North Atlantic Deep Water masses during the Holocene. Paleoceanography 26, PA4214 (2011)
Kissel, C., Toer, A. V., Laj, C., Cortijo, E. & Michel, E. Variations in the strength of the North Atlantic bottom water during Holocene. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 369–370, 248–259 (2013)
Berger, A. Long-term variations of caloric insolation resulting from the Earth’s orbital elements. Quat. Res. 9, 139–167 (1978)
Parrenin, F. et al. The EDC3 chronology for the EPICA Dome C ice core. Clim. Past 3, 485–497 (2007)
Alonso-Garcia, M. et al. Ocean circulation, ice sheet growth and interhemispheric coupling of millennial climate variability during the Mid-Pleistocene (ca. 800–400 ka). Quat. Sci. Rev. 30, 3234–3247 (2011)
Wright, A. K. & Flower, B. P. Surface and deep ocean circulation in the subpolar North Atlantic during the mid-Pleistocene revolution. Paleoceanography 17, 1068 (2002)
Wolff, E. W., Chappellaz, J., Blunier, T., Rasmussen, S. O. & Svensson, A. Millennial-scale variability during the last glacial: The ice core record. Quat. Sci. Rev. 29, 2828–2838 (2010)
Landais, A. et al. What drives the millennial and orbital variations of δ18Oatm? Quat. Sci. Rev. 29, 235–246 (2010)
Edwards, R. L., Chen, J. H. & Wasserburg, G. J. 238U–234U–230Th–232Th systematics and the precise measurement of time over the past 500,000 years. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 81, 175–192 (1987)
Cheng, H. et al. The half-lives of U-234 and Th-230. Chem. Geol. 169, 17–33 (2000)
Spötl, C. & Vennemann, T. W. Continuous-flow isotope ratio mass spectrometric analysis of carbonate minerals. Rapid Commun. Mass Spectrom. 17, 1004–1006 (2003)
Dykoski, C. A. et al. A high resolution, absolute-dated Holocene and deglacial Asian monsoon record from Dongge Cave, China. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 233, 71–86 (2005)
Kelly, M. J. et al. High resolution characterization of the Asian Monsoon between 146,000 and 99,000 years B.P. from Dongge Cave, China. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 236, 20–38 (2006)
Howell, P., Pisias, N., Ballance, J., Baughman, J. & Ochs, L. ARAND time-series analysis software (Brown Univ., 1997); available at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/softlib/arand/arand.html
Lisiecki, L. E. & Raymo, M. E. A. Pliocene-Pleistocene stack of 57 globally distributed benthic δ18O records. Paleoceanography 20, PA1003 (2005)
Hendy, C. H. The isotope geochemistry of speleothems: I. The calculation of the effects of different modes of formation on the isotopic composition of speleothems and their applicability as paleoclimate indicators. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 35, 801–824 (1971)
Lambert, F. et al. Dust–climate couplings over the past 800,000 years from the EPICA Dome C ice core. Nature 452, 616–619 (2008)
Fleitmann, D. et al. Holocene forcing of the Indian monsoon recorded in a stalagmite from Southern Oman. Science 300, 1737–1739 (2003)
Weldeab, S., Lea, D. W., Schneider, R. R. & Andersen, N. 155,000 years of West African monsoon and ocean thermal evolution. Science 316, 1303–1307 (2007)
Holmgren, K. et al. Persistent millennial-scale climatic variability over the past 25,000 years in Southern Africa. Quat. Sci. Rev. 22, 2311–2326 (2003)
This work was supported by China grants NBRP 2013CB955902, NSFC 41230524, 4157020432 and 41561144003, US NSF grants 0502535, 1103404, 0823554, 1003690, 1137693 and 1317693 and Singapore grant NRF-NRFF2011-08. We thank M. Siddall for help with analysis of the millennial-scale variability of the Antarctic temperature record and A. P. Roberts for converting the ice core chronology.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Nature thanks C. Buizert, A. N. Meckler and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Extended data figures and tables
Arrows depict wind directions, yellow labels show wind names. The Mascarene High is a high pressure system near the Mascarene Islands. Stars indicate Sanbao (31° 40′ N, 110° 26′ E), Hulu (32° 30′ N, 119° 10′ E) and Dongge (25° 17′ N, 108° 5′ E) caves. The AM composite record is constructed from speleothem δ18O records from these three caves. The map was constructed using NASA’s World Wind program (http://worldwind.arc.nasa.gov/java/).
Four new stalagmite δ18O records used in this study are from Sanbao Cave, Hubei, China (labelled by sample numbers SB-12, SB-14, SB-32 and SB-58), and one is from Dongge Cave, Guizhou, China (labelled by sample number D8) (Fig. 1). Error bars indicate 230Th ages and errors (2σ). The 230Th dating method is described in ref. 5 and the dating results are listed in Supplementary Table 1. A high degree of similarity among the coeval portions of different δ18O records (the replication test2,58) demonstrates that kinetic factors and water/rock interactions do not have a substantial effect on the speleothem δ18O values.
a–e, Age models are shown for five stalagmites: SB-12 (a), SB-14 (b), SB-32 (c), SB-58 (d) from Sanbao Cave, and D8 (e) from Dongge Cave. The chronology of the upper part of SB-14 is established by linear interpolation between successive 230Th dates, whereas chronologies for other samples are based on polynomial fitting of 230Th dates. The vertical error bars depict errors (2σ) of 230Th dates.
a, Previously published δ18O records over the past 384 kyr bp (black) from Hulu, Dongge and Sanbao caves2,3,4,22,54,55, and new SB-12 (blue) and SB-32 (olive) δ18O records. b, New SB-14 δ18O record. c, New SB-58 (purple) and D-8 (pink) δ18O records. d, Composite AM δ18O record over the past 640 kyr bp. The record is constructed from previous data (<384 kyr bp) and new data from four stalagmites from Sanbao Cave (≥384 kyr bp) (see details in Methods and Supplementary Table 1). e, Detrended AM record (Δδ18O) is obtained by using the z-standard method to remove the insolation component (21 July insolation at 65° N) (see Methods). f, Detrended AM result from ref. 8, which is essentially identical to our results. Minor differences exist because the AM δ18O records used in ref. 8 are slightly different.
Extended Data Figure 5 The AM Δδ18O record over the past 640 kyr bp obtained by the z-standard method and cross-spectral comparison with insolation.
a, Comparison among different AM Δδ18O records detrended by subtracting 21 June (green), 6 July (brown), 21 July (blue) and 6 August (orange) insolation respectively, using the z-standard method (see Methods). b, Cross-spectral comparisons between the insolation for detrending (pink) and Δδ18O records (blue) detrended by 21 June (i), 6 July (ii), 21 July (iii) and 6 August (iv) insolation respectively, using the z-standard method. Numbers in parentheses show the phase differences in degrees between insolation and Δδ18O record. In all cases, the most significant power in the Δδ18O record is in the precession band (~23 kyr). The ~41-kyr power is also present, but is relatively weak. The ~100-kyr power is insignificant.
Extended Data Figure 6 The AM Δδ18O record over the past 640 kyr bp obtained by the principal component analysis method and cross-spectral analysis with insolation.
a, b, As Extended Data Fig. 5, except the principal component analysis method was used, instead of the z-standard method.
a, North Atlantic ODP980 (dark blue)7 and LR04 (light blue)57 benthic δ18O records. b, ODP980 IRD records7. We correlate the IRD event around T-II to the WMI with similar duration (depicted by grey bar), which is consistent with the obvious offset of its δ18O shift related to that in LR04 record (dashed bar). YD and H1 to H6 indicate the Younger Dryas event, and Heinrich Stadial events 1 to 6, respectively. c, Greenland ice core (NGRIP) δ18O record49. d, Antarctic ice core (EDC) dust record59. e, Detrended Antarctic δD record18 (ΔδD), using a method modified from ref. 35. f, AM millennial variability (Δδ18O, detrended from the composite AM δ18O record by subtracting 21 July insolation at 65° N). g, Composite AM δ18O record. h, EDC CH4 record19. Vertical grey bars indicate major weak AM intervals (WMIs) and corresponding events (increase of temperature and decrease of dust flux in Antarctica, cold events in Greenland and IRD events in the North Atlantic Ocean). Dashed lines depict correlations between abrupt AM intensification and CH4 jump (brown) and between weak monsoon and IRD events (black). All ice core records are on their EDC3 chronology46. Notably, the AM Δδ18O and Antarctic ΔδD records show striking similarity, demonstrating a common millennial-scale variability (Fig. 3).
Extended Data Figure 8 Comparison and cross-spectral analyses between insolation, AM Δδ18O and Antarctic ΔδD records.
a, AM Δδ18O record (blue). b, Detrended Antarctic δD record18 (ΔδD, olive), using a method modified from ref. 35. 21 June insolation at 65° N (ref. 45; pink) is plotted for comparison in a and b. c, Comparison between Antarctic ΔδD (olive) and AM Δδ18O (blue) records. d, Cross-spectral analyses of the Antarctic ΔδD record (olive) with 21 July insolation at 65° N (pink) (left), and with the AM Δδ18O record (blue) (right), respectively. Numbers in parentheses show the phase differences in degrees. In all records, the precession cycle of ~23 kyr is significant. The phase of the Antarctic ΔδD record at precession band is close to 21 June insolation, and nearly anti-phased with the AM Δδ18O record. The remarkable correlation between weak AM (positive Δδ18O anomaly) and warm Antarctica (positive ΔδD anomaly) is evident (c).
Extended Data Figure 9 Comparison of the AM variability with sea level (global ice volume) and atmospheric CO2 changes.
Upper panel, interval from 350 to 0 kyr bp; lower panel, interval from 650 to 300 kyr bp. In both panels: a, AM Δδ18O record. b, AM δ18O record (green) and 21 July insolation at 65° N (pink)45. c, Composite sea level record17. d, Composite atmospheric CO2 record20. Grey bars show the timing of WMIs and associated terminations. Two yellow bars indicate the two millennial-scale positive anomalies (or WMIs), marking the ‘unfinished terminations’30—the MIS 4/3 and 5.2/5.1 transitions (Fig. 2). For the T-IIIa WMI we also indicate the correlation previously made by Cheng et al.4 with a beige bar. Although we consider this as a plausible alternative correlation, we prefer the new correlation presented in Figs 1, 3 and 5, and in this figure. The new correlation fits much better with the original chronologies of the ice core and marine records. In addition, the match of the adjacent high δ18O AM anomalies and the ice rafted debris record7 is better with the new correlation. Some examples of initial AM rises around NHSI minima are depicted by green arrows and dashed lines, which do not appear to link directly to either global ice volume or CO2 changes.
Extended Data Figure 10 Comparison between the Holocene and MIS 11 on the basis of the insolation alignment.
a, 21 July insolation at 65° N for the Holocene (green) and MIS 11 (pink)45. b, c, Composite AM δ18O records during MIS 11 and the Holocene, respectively. d, AM cave δ18O record from the Indian monsoon domain60. e, North African monsoon record (seawater δ18O record from the marine sediment core, MD03-270, from the Gulf of Guinea)61. f, South American monsoon record from Cueva del Tigre Perdido, northern Peru40. g, South African monsoon record from Cold Air Cave, Makapansgat Valley, South Africa62. Vertical bar depicts the ‘2-kyr shift’. These records show ‘2-kyr shift’ trends that are different from their trends exhibited in the middle to late Holocene interval. The monsoon ‘2-kyr shift’ also appears to show an opposite inter-hemispheric pattern.
This file contains 230Th dating results and δ18O time series for five stalagmites, SB-12, SB-14, SB-32, SB-58, and D8, as well as the composite AM δ18O record and detrended AM record (Δδ18O). (XLSX 633 kb)
About this article
Cite this article
Cheng, H., Edwards, R., Sinha, A. et al. The Asian monsoon over the past 640,000 years and ice age terminations. Nature 534, 640–646 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature18591
The response of the hydrological cycle to temperature changes in recent and distant climatic history
Progress in Earth and Planetary Science (2022)
Southern hemisphere forced millennial scale Indian summer monsoon variability during the late Pleistocene
Scientific Reports (2022)
Communications Earth & Environment (2022)
Effects of climate change and nutrient concentrations on carbon sources for zooplankton in a Tibetan Plateau lake over the past millennium
Journal of Paleolimnology (2022)
East Asian summer monsoon changes in subtropical China since late Pleistocene: Evidence from the Ailuropoda-Stegodon fauna
Journal of Mountain Science (2022)