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Air–sea temperature decoupling in western Europe during the last interglacial–glacial transition

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A period of continental ice growth between about 80,000 and 70,000 years ago was controlled by a decrease in summer insolation, and was among the four largest ice expansions of the past 250,000 years1. The moisture source for this ice sheet expansion, known as the Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5a/4 transition, has been proposed to be the warm subpolar and northern subtropical Atlantic Ocean1,2. However, the mechanism by which glaciers kept growing through three suborbital cooling events within this period, which were associated with iceberg discharge in the North Atlantic3,4 and cooling over Greenland5,6, is unclear. Here we reconstruct parallel records of sea surface and air temperatures from marine microfossil and pollen data, respectively, from two sediment cores collected within the northern subtropical gyre. The thermal gradient between the cold air and warmer sea increased throughout the MIS5a/4 transition, and was marked by three intervals of even more pronounced thermal gradients associated with the C20, C19 and C18’ cold events. We argue that the warm ocean surface along the western European margin provided a source of moisture that was transported, through northward-tracking storms, to feed ice sheets in colder Greenland, northern Europe and the Arctic.

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Figure 1: Map with the locations of the cores discussed in the text.
Figure 2: Insolation and atmospheric CO2 concentration changes versus marine and terrestrial palaeoclimatic records from core MD04-2845 for the interval 85–50 ka.
Figure 3: Greenland temperature record compared with land–sea palaeoclimatic records from the three western European margin cores during the MIS5a/4 transition.

Change history

  • 05 September 2013

    In the version of this Letter originally published online, the 'Data' section of the Methods was missing. This is now correct.


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We thank the coring and logistic teams onboard the R/V Marion Dufresne during the IMAGES I, GINNA and ALIENOR oceanographic cruises. The work of M.F.S.G. and F.d. was supported by the ERC Advanced Grant TRACSYMBOLS no. 249587. IPEV, INSU-ECLIPSE and ANR-PICC French programmes provided financial support to UMR-CNRS 5805 EPOC as well as the RESOLuTION project funded by the ESF programme EUROCORES. A.L. received support from the ANR Citronnier. E.B. acknowledges financial support from the European Commission (Project Past4Future) and the Collège de France. We thank D. Urrego for assisting us with the statistical analysis, E. Salgueiro for reconstructing Iberian margin SSTs from core MD95-2042 using the Iberian margin database, and F. Rostek for measuring alkenones at CEREGE. We are grateful to S. Desprat, D. Urrego, M-N. Woillez, A-L. Daniau and W. Banks for constructive discussions, M-H. Castera, M. Georget and O. Ther for their technical assistance, and V. Hanquiez for drawing Fig. 1.

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M.F.S.G. designed the study, performed pollen analysis, interpreted the data and wrote the manuscript. E.B. provided the alkenone data and discussed data and interpretations. A.L. discussed the data. L.R. performed the foraminifera analysis and reconstructed sea surface temperatures. F.d. contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to María Fernanda Sánchez Goñi.

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Sánchez Goñi, M., Bard, E., Landais, A. et al. Air–sea temperature decoupling in western Europe during the last interglacial–glacial transition. Nature Geosci 6, 837–841 (2013).

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