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North Atlantic forcing of Amazonian precipitation during the last ice age

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Abstract

The last glacial period was marked by multiple, abrupt reorganizations of ocean and atmosphere circulation1. On thousand-year timescales, slowing of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation was associated with cooling in the high northern latitudes, whereas strengthened circulation was linked to northern warming1,2. In the tropics, these millennial-scale events were primarily reflected in altered patterns of precipitation3. These hydrologic fluctuations induced ecological changes in the Atlantic seaboard and the high Andes2, but less is known about the Amazon Basin. Here we reconstruct precipitation over Amazonian Ecuador over the past 94,000 years using a δ18O record from speleothems collected in Santiago Cave in western Amazonia. We interpret the variability of the δ18O record as changes in the source and amount of precipitation. With the exception of the period between 40,000 and 17,000 years ago, abrupt, high-frequency changes coincide with shifts in North Atlantic circulation, indicating a high-latitude influence on Amazonian precipitation over millennial timescales. On longer timescales, the record shows a relationship to precessional changes in the Earth’s orbit. In light of the lack of extreme aridity in our records, we conclude that ecosystems in western Amazonia have not experienced prolonged drying over the past 94,000 years.

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Figure 1: Santiago and Greenland palaeoclimate comparison.
Figure 2: Temporal synchrony of Santiago δ18O (‰ versus VPDB) with Atlantic Basin palaeoclimate records.
Figure 3: The changing relationship of Amazonian to Andean palaeoprecipitation.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank M. Zimmerman, C. Bryant and T. Scholze for assistance; and C. McMichael for critical discussions. This project was financially supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Geography programme, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship programme, NERC Isotope Geoscience support, the National Geographic Society and the NSF GK-12 programme.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

N.A.S.M. conducted the fieldwork, data analysis and co-wrote the paper; M.B.B. supervised the project and co-wrote the paper; W.D.G. and D.H. discussed the results and their implications; L.T. and P.v.C. conducted the U–Th dating and methodological advice; A.C-M. contributed to the U–Th dating, data analysis and discussion of the results; B.G.V. obtained the geological samples; J.C. conducted isotopic analyses, methodological advice, and discussion of the results; and R.v.W. co-wrote the paper. All co-authors provided comments on the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Nicole A. S. Mosblech or Mark B. Bush.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Mosblech, N., Bush, M., Gosling, W. et al. North Atlantic forcing of Amazonian precipitation during the last ice age. Nature Geosci 5, 817–820 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1588

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