Letter | Published:

Deglacial Indian monsoon failure and North Atlantic stadials linked by Indian Ocean surface cooling

Nature Geoscience volume 9, pages 4650 (2016) | Download Citation


The Indian monsoon, the largest monsoon system on Earth, responds to remote climatic forcings, including temperature changes in the North Atlantic1,2. The monsoon was weak during two cool periods that punctuated the last deglaciation—Heinrich Stadial 1 and the Younger Dryas. It has been suggested that sea surface cooling in the Indian Ocean was the critical link between these North Atlantic stadials and monsoon failure3; however, based on existing proxy records4 it is unclear whether surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea dropped during these intervals. Here we compile new and existing temperature proxy data4,5,6,7 from the Arabian Sea, and find that surface temperatures cooled whereas subsurface temperatures warmed during both Heinrich Stadial 1 and the Younger Dryas. Our analysis of model simulations shows that surface cooling weakens the monsoon winds and leads to destratification of the water column and substantial subsurface warming. We thus conclude that sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean are indeed the link between North Atlantic climate and the strength of the Indian monsoon.

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We thank F. He for assistance with the TraCE data. Funding for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation (Grant #OCE-1203892 to J.E.T.) and the International Meteorological Institute at Stockholm University, with contributions from the Center for Climate & Life at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

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  1. University of Arizona, Department of Geosciences, 1040 E 4th Street, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA

    • Jessica E. Tierney
  2. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 266 Woods Hole Road, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA

    • Jessica E. Tierney
  3. Department of Meteorology and Bolin Centre for Climate Change Research, Stockholm University, Arrhenius Väg 16C, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden

    • Francesco S. R. Pausata
  4. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, New York 10961, USA

    • Peter deMenocal


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J.E.T. and F.S.R.P. designed the study. J.E.T. measured and analysed the TEX86 and U37K proxy data from the Gulf of Aden core, and synthesized previously published proxy data. P.deM. measured and analysed the δ18O and Mg/Ca data from the Gulf of Aden core. F.S.R.P. designed and performed the model analysis and contributed to the interpretation of the proxy data. J.E.T. wrote the paper with contributions from all the authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jessica E. Tierney.

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