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.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    , , & The southwest Indian Monsoon over the last 18,000 years. Clim. Dynam. 12, 213–225 (1996).

  2. 2.

    , & Correlation between Arabian Sea and Greenland climate oscillations of the past 110,000 years. Nature 393, 54–57 (1998).

  3. 3.

    , , & Chinese stalagmite δ18O controlled by changes in the Indian monsoon during a simulated Heinrich event. Nature Geosci. 4, 474–480 (2011).

  4. 4.

    , , , & Deglaciation in the tropical Indian Ocean driven by interplay between the regional monsoon and global teleconnections. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 375, 166–175 (2013).

  5. 5.

    & Sea surface temperature pattern reconstructions in the Arabian Sea. Paleoceanography 21, PA1014 (2006).

  6. 6.

    , & Tropical sea-surface temperatures during the last glacial period: A view based on alkenones in Indian Ocean sediments. Q. Sci. Rev. 17, 1185–1201 (1998).

  7. 7.

    , , & Reconstruction of sea surface temperature variations in the Arabian Sea over the last 23 kyr using organic proxies (TEX86 and U37K). Paleoceanography 21, PA3003 (2006).

  8. 8.

    , , , & Collapse and rapid resumption of Atlantic meridional circulation linked to deglacial climate changes. Nature 428, 834–837 (2004).

  9. 9.

    & Global climatic impacts of a collapse of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation. Climatic Change 54, 251–267 (2002).

  10. 10.

    Heinrich events: Massive late Pleistocene detritus layers of the North Atlantic and their global climate imprint. Rev. Geophys. 42, RG1005 (2004).

  11. 11.

    , , & Catastrophic drought in the Afro-Asian monsoon region during Heinrich event 1. Science 331, 1299–1302 (2011).

  12. 12.

    & Abrupt shifts in horn of Africa hydroclimate since the last glacial maximum. Science 342, 843–846 (2013).

  13. 13.

    , & Past and future rainfall in the Horn of Africa. Sci. Adv. 1, e1500682 (2015).

  14. 14.

    et al. Transient simulation of last deglaciation with a new mechanism for Bølling-Allerød warming. Science 325, 310–314 (2009).

  15. 15.

    , & Archaeal dominance in the mesopelagic zone of the Pacific Ocean. Nature 409, 507–510 (2001).

  16. 16.

    et al. Intact polar and core glycerol dibiphytanyl glycerol tetraether lipids in the Arabian Sea oxygen minimum zone: I. Selective preservation and degradation in the water column and consequences for the TEX86. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 98, 228–243 (2012).

  17. 17.

    & A Bayesian, spatially-varying calibration model for the TEX86 proxy. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 127, 83–106 (2014).

  18. 18.

    & A TEX86 surface sediment database and extended Bayesian calibration. Sci. Data 2, 150029 (2015).

  19. 19.

    , & The effect of millennial-scale changes in Arabian Sea denitrification on atmospheric CO2. Nature 415, 159–162 (2002).

  20. 20.

    , , , & Variations of oxygen-minimum and primary productivity recorded in sediments of the Arabian Sea. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 173, 205–221 (1999).

  21. 21.

    et al. Southern Hemisphere imprint for Indo-Asian summer monsoons during the last glacial period as revealed by Arabian Sea productivity records. Biogeosci. Discuss. 10, 9315–9343 (2013).

  22. 22.

    & Indian monsoon GCM sensitivity experiments testing tropospheric biennial oscillation transition conditions. J. Clim. 15, 923–944 (2002).

  23. 23.

    & Century-scale effects of increased atmospheric CO2 on the ocean–atmosphere system. Nature 364, 215–218 (1993).

  24. 24.

    & Influence of CO2 emission rates on the stability of the thermohaline circulation. Nature 388, 862–865 (1997).

  25. 25.

    & Role of atmospheric adjustments in the tropical Indian Ocean warming during the 20th century in climate models. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L08712 (2008).

  26. 26.

    , & Effects of black carbon aerosols on the Indian monsoon. J. Clim. 21, 2869–2882 (2008).

  27. 27.

    et al. Temperature and salinity effects on alkenone ratios measured in surface sediments from the Indian Ocean. Q. Res. 47, 344–355 (1997).

  28. 28.

    Simulating Transient Climate Evolution of the Last Deglaciation with CCSM3 PhD thesis, Univ. Wisconsin-Madison (2010).

  29. 29.

    et al. Last glacial maximum and Holocene climate in CCSM3. J. Clim. 19, 2526–2544 (2006).

  30. 30.

    , , & Rates of thermohaline recovery from freshwater pulses in modern, last Glacial Maximum, and greenhouse warming climates. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L07708 (2007).

Download references


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.

Author information


  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


  1. Search for Jessica E. Tierney in:

  2. Search for Francesco S. R. Pausata in:

  3. Search for Peter deMenocal in:


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.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Information

About this article

Publication history






Further reading

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