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.

An abrupt wind shift in western Europe at the onset of the Younger Dryas cold period


The Younger Dryas cooling 12,700 years ago is one of the most abrupt climate changes observed in Northern Hemisphere palaeoclimate records1,2,3,4. Annually laminated lake sediments are ideally suited to record the dynamics of such abrupt changes, as the seasonal deposition responds immediately to climate, and the varve counts provide an accurate estimate of the timing of the change. Here, we present sub-annual records of varve microfacies and geochemistry from Lake Meerfelder Maar in western Germany, providing one of the best dated records of this climate transition5. Our data indicate an abrupt increase in storminess during the autumn to spring seasons, occurring from one year to the next at 12,679 yr BP, broadly coincident with other changes in this region. We suggest that this shift in wind strength represents an abrupt change in the North Atlantic westerlies towards a stronger and more zonal jet. Changes in meridional overturning circulation alone cannot fully explain the changes in European climate6,7; we suggest the observed wind shift provides the mechanism for the strong temporal link between North Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation and European climate during deglaciation.

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: North Atlantic sea surface temperature (colours)29 and surface wind fields (vectors)30 in the circum-North Atlantic region.
Figure 2: MFM sediment changes and their relationship to the Greenland ice core record.
Figure 3: Photomicrographs of varves before and after the onset of the Younger Dryas event.


  1. Johnsen, S. J. et al. Irregular glacial interstadials record in a new Greenland ice core. Nature 359, 311–313 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Alley, R. B. et al. Abrupt increase in Greenland snow accumulation at the end of the Younger Dryas event. Nature 362, 527–529 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. McManus, J. F., Francois, R., Gherardi, J.-M., Keigwin, L. D. & Brown-Leger, S. Collapse and rapid resumption of Atlantic meridional circulation linked to deglacial climate changes. Nature 428, 834–837 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. von Grafenstein, U., Erlenkeuser, H., Brauer, A., Jouzel, J. & Johnsen, S. J. A mid-European decadal isotope-climate record from 15,500 to 5,000 years B.P. Science 284, 1654–1657 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Brauer, A. et al. High resolution sediment and vegetation responses to Younger Dryas climate change in varved lake sediments from Meerfelder Maar, Germany. Quat. Sci. Rev. 18/3, 321–329 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Wunsch, C. Abrupt climate change: An alternative view. Quat. Res. 65/2, 191–203 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Seager, R. et al. Is the Gulf Stream responsible for Europe’s mild winters?. Q. J. R. Metereol. Soc. 128, 2563–2586 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Firestone, R. B. et al. Evidence for an extraterrestrial impact 12,900 years ago that contributed to the megafaunal extinctions and the Younger Dryas cooling. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. 104, 16016–16021 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Broecker, W. S. Does the trigger for abrupt climate change reside in the ocean or in the atmosphere? Science 300, 1519–1522 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Broecker, W. S., Peteet, D. M. & Rind, D. Does the ocean–atmosphere system have more than one stable mode of operation? Nature 315, 21–26 (1985).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Fairbanks, R. G. A 17,000-year glacio-eustatic sea level record: Influence of glacial melting rates on the Younger Dryas event and deep-ocean circulation. Nature 342, 637–642 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Teller, J. T., Leverington, D. W. & Mann, J. D. Freshwater outbursts to the oceans from glacial Lake Agassiz and their role in climate change during the last deglaciation. Quat. Sci. Rev. 21/8-9, 879–887 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Björck, S. et al. Synchronised terrestrial-atmospheric deglacial records around the North Atlantic. Science 274, 1155–1160 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Tarasov, L & Peltier, W. R. Arctic freshwater forcing of the Younger Dryas cold reversal. Nature 435, 662–665 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Broecker, W. S. Was the Younger Dryas triggered by a flood? Science 312, 1146–1148 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Allen, J. R. M. et al. Rapid environmental changes in southern Europe during the last glacial period. Nature 400, 740–743 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Li, C., Battisti, D. S., Schrag, D. P. & Tziperman, E. Abrupt climate shifts in Greenland due to displacements of the sea ice edge. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, doi:10.1029/2005GL023492 (2005).

  18. Brauer, A., Günter, C., Johnsen, S. J. & Negendank, J. F. W. Land-ice teleconnections of cold climatic periods during the last glacial/interglacial transition. Clim. Dyn. 16/2-3, 229–239 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Berner, R. A. A new geochemical classification of sedimentary environments. J. Sedim. Petrol. 51/2, 359–365 (1981).

    Google Scholar 

  20. Lücke, A. & Brauer, A. Biogeochemical and micro-facial fingerprints of ecosystem response to rapid Late Glacial climatic changes in varved sediments of Meerfelder Maar (Germany). Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 211/1-2, 139–155 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Denton, G. H., Alley, R. B., Comer, G. C. & Broecker, W. S. The role of seasonality in abrupt climate change. Quat. Sci. Rev. 24/10-11, 1159–1182 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Hurrell, J. W., Kushnir, Y. & Visbeck, M. The North Atlantic Oscillation. Science 291, 603–605 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Isarin, R. F. B., Renssen, H. & Vandenberghe, J. The impact of the North Atlantic Ocean on the Younger Dryas climate in northwestern and central Europe. J. Quat. Sci. 13/5, 447–453 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Thompson, D. W. J. & Wallace, J. M. Regional climate impacts of the northern hemisphere annular mode. Science 293, 85–89 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Kageyama, M., Valdes, P. J., Ramstein, G., Hewitt, C. & Wyputta, U. Northern Hemisphere storm tracks in present day and Last Glacial Maximum climate simulations: A comparison of the European PMIP models. J. Clim. 12/3, 742–760 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 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 

  27. Visbeck, M. The Ocean’s role in Atlantic climate variability. Science 297, 2223–2224 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Broecker, W. S. Thermohaline circulation, the Achilles heel of our climate system: Will man-made CO2 upset the current balance? Science 278, 1582–1588 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Reynolds, M. R. W., Rayner, N. A., Smith, T. M., Stokes, D. C. & Wang, W. An improved in situ and satellite SST analysis for climate. J. Clim. 15, 1609–1625 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Kalnay, M. E. et al. The NCEP/NCAR 40-year reanalysis project. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 77/3, 437–471 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). M. Köhler and D. Berger participated in the coring campaign and prepared petrographic thin sections. A. Hendrich helped with the layout of the figures.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Achim Brauer.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary figures S1 and S2 (PDF 2415 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Brauer, A., Haug, G., Dulski, P. et al. An abrupt wind shift in western Europe at the onset of the Younger Dryas cold period. Nature Geosci 1, 520–523 (2008).

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