Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Long-term winter warming trend in the Siberian Arctic during the mid- to late Holocene


Relative to the past 2,000 years1,2, the Arctic region has warmed significantly over the past few decades. However, the evolution of Arctic temperatures during the rest of the Holocene is less clear. Proxy reconstructions, suggest a long-term cooling trend throughout the mid- to late Holocene3,4,5, whereas climate model simulations show only minor changes or even warming6,7,8. Here we present a record of the oxygen isotope composition of permafrost ice wedges from the Lena River Delta in the Siberian Arctic. The isotope values, which reflect winter season temperatures, became progressively more enriched over the past 7,000 years, reaching unprecedented levels in the past five decades. This warming trend during the mid- to late Holocene is in opposition to the cooling seen in other proxy records3,5,9. However, most of these existing proxy records are biased towards summer temperatures. We argue that the opposing trends are related to the seasonally different orbital forcing over this interval. Furthermore, our reconstructed trend as well as the recent maximum are consistent with the greenhouse gas forcing and climate model simulations, thus reconciling differing estimates of Arctic and northern high-latitude temperature evolution during the Holocene.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Temperature and climate forcing time series for the past eight millennia, showing different seasonal trends.
Figure 2: Simulated temperature change between pre-industrial and mid-Holocene.
Figure 3: Arctic temperature trends during the past two millennia.


  1. Kaufman, D. S. et al. Recent warming reverses long-term Arctic cooling. Science 325, 1236–1239 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. PAGES 2k Consortium, Continental-scale temperature variability during the past two millennia. Nature Geosci. 6, 339–346 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Marcott, S. A., Shakun, J. D., Clark, P. U. & Mix, A. C. A reconstruction of regional and global temperature for the past 11,300 years. Science 339, 1198–1201 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Vinther, B. M. et al. Holocene thinning of the Greenland ice sheet. Nature 461, 385–388 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Wanner, H. et al. Mid- to Late Holocene climate change: An overview. Quat. Sci. Rev. 27, 1791–1828 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Timm, O. & Timmermann, A. Simulation of the last 21,000 years using accelerated transient boundary conditions. J. Clim. 20, 4377–4401 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Lohmann, G., Pfeiffer, M., Laepple, T., Leduc, G. & Kim, J. H. A model-data comparison of the Holocene global sea surface temperature evolution. Clim. Past 9, 1807–1839 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Braconnot, P. et al. Results of PMIP2 coupled simulations of the Mid-Holocene and Last Glacial Maximum—Part 1: Experiments and large-scale features. Clim. Past 3, 261–277 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Sundqvist, H. S. et al. Arctic Holocene proxy climate database—new approaches to assessing geochronological accuracy and encoding climate variables. Clim. Past 10, 1605–1631 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Serreze, M. C. & Barry, R. G. Processes and impacts of Arctic amplification: A research synthesis. Glob. Planet. Change 77, 85–96 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA): Climate Change and the Cryosphere (Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, 2011);

  12. Miller, G. H. et al. Temperature and precipitation history of the Arctic. Quat. Sci. Rev. 29, 1679–1715 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Sundqvist, H. S. et al. Climate change between the mid and late Holocene in northern high latitudes—Part 1: Survey of temperature and precipitation proxy data. Clim. Past 6, 591–608 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Birks, H. B., Heiri, O., Seppä, H. & Bjune, A. E. Strengths and weaknesses of quantitative climate reconstructions based on late-Quaternary biological proxies. Open Ecol. J. 3, 68–110 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Andreev, A. A., Klimanov, V. A. & Sulerzhitsky, L. D. Vegetation and climate history of the Yana River lowland, Russia, during the last 6400 yr. Quat. Sci. Rev. 20, 259–266 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Walter, K. M., Zimov, S. A., Chanton, J. P., Verbyla, D. & Chapin, F. S. III Methane bubbling from Siberian thaw lakes as a positive feedback to climate warming. Nature 443, 71–75 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Lachenbruch, A. H. Mechanics of Thermal Contraction Cracks and Ice-Wedge Polygons in Permafrost (Geological Society of America Special Paper 70, 1962)

    Google Scholar 

  18. Mackay, J. R. Oxygen isotope variations in permafrost, Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula area, Northwest Territories. Current Res. B 83-1B, 67–74 (1983).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Meyer, H. et al. Permafrost evidence for severe winter cooling during the Younger Dryas in northern Alaska. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L03501 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Schwamborn, G., Rachold, V. & Grigoriev, M. N. Late Quaternary sedimentation history of the Lena Delta. Quat. Intern. 89, 119–134 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Dahl-Jensen, D. et al. Past temperatures directly from the Greenland ice sheet. Science 282, 268–271 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Braconnot, P. et al. Evaluation of climate models using palaeoclimatic data. Nature Clim. Change 2, 417–424 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Mairesse, A., Goosse, H., Mathiot, P., Wanner, H. & Dubinkina, S. Investigating the consistency between proxy-based reconstructions and climate models using data assimilation: A mid-Holocene case study. Clim. Past 9, 2741–2757 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Laskar, J. et al. A long-term numerical solution for the insolation quantities of the Earth. Astron. Astrophys. 428, 261–285 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Zhang, Q. et al. Climate change between the mid and late Holocene in northern high latitudes; Part 2: Model-data comparisons. Clim. Past 6, 609–626 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Joos, F. & Spahni, R. Rates of change in natural and anthropogenic radiative forcing over the past 20,000 years. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 1425–1430 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Bauch, H. A. et al. Chronology of the Holocene transgression at the North Siberian margin. Glob. Planet. Change 31, 125–139 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Opel, T., Dereviagin, A. Y., Meyer, H., Schirrmeister, L. & Wetterich, S. Palaeoclimatic information from stable water isotopes of Holocene ice wedges on the Dmitrii Laptev Strait, northeast Siberia, Russia. Permafrost Periglacial Process. 22, 84–100 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Brohan, P., Kennedy, J. J., Harris, I., Tett, S. F. B. & Jones, P. D. Uncertainty estimates in regional and global observed temperature changes: A new data set from 1850. J. Geophys. Res. 111, D12106 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Laepple, T. & Lohmann, G. Seasonal cycle as template for climate variability on astronomical time scales. Paleoceanography 24, PA4201 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We greatly acknowledge numerous people involved in field and lab work, in particular L. Schoenicke and C. Springer (AWI Potsdam) for stable isotope analyses. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Programme for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provided coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organisation for Earth System Science Portals. The PMIP3 Data archives are supported by CEA and CNRS. This paper is a contribution to the research programme PACES II, Topic 3 of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research and to the Eurasian Arctic Ice 4k project (grant OP 217/2-1 by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft awarded to T.O.). T.L. was supported by the Initiative and Networking Fund of the Helmholtz Association (grant VG-900NH).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



H.M., A.Y.D. and T.O. designed the study and carried out the fieldwork. H.M. and K.H. performed the stable water isotope analyses on ice wedges. H.M. wrote the first draft of the manuscript. T.L. performed the statistical analysis of the isotope and climate model data. All authors contributed to data interpretation and the preparation of the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hanno Meyer.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 2598 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Meyer, H., Opel, T., Laepple, T. et al. Long-term winter warming trend in the Siberian Arctic during the mid- to late Holocene. Nature Geosci 8, 122–125 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing