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Aerosol-weakened summer monsoons decrease lake fertilization on the Chinese Loess Plateau


Anthropogenic aerosol increases over the past few decades have weakened the Asian summer monsoon1,2,3 with potentially far-reaching socio-economic and ecological repercussions. However, it is unknown how these changes will affect freshwater ecosystems that are important to densely populated regions of Asia. High-resolution diatom records and other proxy data archived in lake sediment cores from the Chinese Loess Plateau allow the comparison of summer monsoon intensity, lake trophic status and aquatic ecosystem responses during warming periods over the past two millennia. Here we show that an abrupt shift towards eutrophic limnological conditions coincided with historical warming episodes4,5, marked by increased wind intensity and summer monsoon rainfall leading to phosphorus-laden soil erosion and natural lake fertilization. In contrast, aerosol-affected Anthropocene warming catalysed a marked weakening in summer monsoon intensity leading to decreases in soil erosion and lake mixing. The recent warm period triggered a strikingly different aquatic ecosystem response with a limnological regime shift marked by turnover in diatom species composition now dominated by oligotrophic taxa, consistent with reductions in nutrient fertilization, reduced ice cover and increased thermal stratification6. Anthropogenic aerosols have altered climate–monsoon dynamics that are unparalleled in the past 2,000 years, ushering in a new ecological state.

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Figure 1: Lake Gonghai, located at the CLP, considered to be the most erodible area on Earth, is largely influenced by the Asian summer monsoon.
Figure 2: Long-term trends (over the past 2,000 years) in reconstructed air temperature and Asia summer monsoon rainfall compared with the Lake Gonghai sediment core trends for phosphorus-laden soil erosion, and shifts in dominance between oligotrophic (low nutrient) and eutrophic (high nutrient) diatom indicators.
Figure 3: The major shift in diatom assemblage composition recorded in the Lake Gonghai sediment core (GH13F) compared to the global mean air temperature trend observed during the anthropogenic warm period.
Figure 4: Schematic diagram illustrating the different ecosystem responses to recent anthropogenic and past warming in monsoon regions.

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We thank members of the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory and G. J. Chen for their help with the laboratory analyses; S. Kandasamy, Z. L. Wang, L. Lin, M. R. Qiang, G. H. Dong, Y. L. Li, X. S. Zhang and Y. Li for critical discussions and reading of the manuscript; X. J. Zhang and Z. P. Zhang for assistance in figure preparation; and Z. L. Wang, X. Y. Cao and Y. C. Li for fieldwork, respectively. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 41601186, 41130102, 41471162 and 41505043), Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (No. lzujbky-2016-155), and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to J.P.S.

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Authors and Affiliations



J.P.S. and F.C. designed this study. J.P.S., J.L., K.M.R. and F.C. led the interpretation and writing. Q.X. and J.C. organized field work. J.P.S., K.M.R. and J.L. led the diatom analysis. J.L., K.M.R. and J.P.S. performed diatom analysis. J.L. and J.C. performed geochemical data analysis. J.L., K.M.R. and F.C. constructed the age-depth model. J.L., J.P.S., K.M.R., Y.X., J.C., S.C., F.C., Q.C. and H.W. wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and provided input to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Fahu Chen or John P. Smol.

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Liu, J., Rühland, K., Chen, J. et al. Aerosol-weakened summer monsoons decrease lake fertilization on the Chinese Loess Plateau. Nature Clim Change 7, 190–194 (2017).

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