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Persistent non-solar forcing of Holocene storm dynamics in coastal sedimentary archives


Considerable climatic variability on decadal to millennial timescales has been documented for the past 11,500 years of interglacial climate1,2,3. This variability has been particularly pronounced at a frequency of about 1,500 years, with repeated cold intervals in the North Atlantic1,3. However, there is growing evidence that these oscillations originate from a cluster of different spectral signatures4, ranging from a 2,500-year cycle throughout the period to a 1,000-year cycle during the earliest millennia. Here we present a reappraisal of high-energy estuarine and coastal sedimentary records from the southern coast of the English Channel, and report evidence for five distinct periods during the Holocene when storminess was enhanced during the past 6,500 years. We find that high storm activity occurred periodically with a frequency of about 1,500 years, closely related to cold and windy periods diagnosed earlier1,2,3. We show that millennial-scale storm extremes in northern Europe are phase-locked with the period of internal ocean variability in the North Atlantic of about 1,500 years4. However, no consistent correlation emerges between spectral maxima in records of storminess and solar irradiation. We conclude that solar activity changes are unlikely to be a primary forcing mechanism of millennial-scale variability in storminess.

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Figure 1: North Atlantic core sites and the HSPs in northern Europe.
Figure 2: Schematic cross-section of a sedimentary coastal wedge as preserved in the MSMB and Seine Estuary environments.
Figure 3: North Atlantic climate records, the solar forcing and the HSPs during the late Holocene.


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This work received financial support from the French Seine-Aval 4 programme. P.S. was supported by the CNRS (post-doc at M2C Caen); M.D. was supported by the French Seine-Aval 4 programme (post-doc at M2C Caen). I.B.’s PhD thesis (M2C Caen) was financially supported by the French Ministry of Research. The contribution of J.F.M. to this study was supported in part by the US-NSF and the Comer Science and Educational Foundation. Fieldwork in the MSMB and Seine Estuary was conducted with the RV Côte d’Aquitaine (CNRS/INSU) and the RV Thalia (Ifremer/Genavir), respectively. We warmly thank the M2C-Caen staff for vibrocoring surveys. We are very grateful to P. Gibbard and N. Marriner for constructive comments and cross-reading of the text.

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Authors and Affiliations



P.S., M.D. and B.T. designed the study and compiled available data from the literature. P.S. wrote the manuscript. M.D. performed the wavelet analysis. P.S. and M.D. created Figs 1 and 3. I.B. provided all of the data dealing with the MSMB. S.L.J. and J.F.M. contributed to the interpretation of the results. B.T. initiated and guided the project, and provided Fig. 2. All of the authors discussed the data and provided significant input to the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Philippe Sorrel or Maxime Debret.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Sorrel, P., Debret, M., Billeaud, I. et al. Persistent non-solar forcing of Holocene storm dynamics in coastal sedimentary archives. Nature Geosci 5, 892–896 (2012).

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