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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.

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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.


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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.

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Correspondence to Achim Brauer.

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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).

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