Constraints on the magnitude and patterns of ocean cooling at the Last Glacial Maximum


Observation-based reconstructions of sea surface temperature from relatively stable periods in the past, such as the Last Glacial Maximum, represent an important means of constraining climate sensitivity and evaluating model simulations1. The first quantitative global reconstruction of sea surface temperatures during the Last Glacial Maximum was developed by the Climate Long-Range Investigation, Mapping and Prediction (CLIMAP) project in the 1970s and 1980s (refs 2, 3). Since that time, several shortcomings of that earlier effort have become apparent4. Here we present an updated synthesis of sea surface temperatures during the Last Glacial Maximum, rigorously defined as the period between 23 and 19 thousand years before present, from the Multiproxy Approach for the Reconstruction of the Glacial Ocean Surface (MARGO) project5. We integrate microfossil and geochemical reconstructions of surface temperatures and include assessments of the reliability of individual records. Our reconstruction reveals the presence of large longitudinal gradients in sea surface temperature in all of the ocean basins, in contrast to the simulations of the Last Glacial Maximum climate available at present6,7.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: MARGO data coverage.
Figure 2: Maps of reconstructed LGM sea surface temperature anomalies.
Figure 3: Latitudinal averages of estimated LGM SST anomalies derived from microfossil and geochemical proxies.
Figure 4: Map and longitudinal averages of LGM SST annual mean anomalies for the 30 S–30 N tropical band.


  1. 1

    Crucifix, M. Does the Last Glacial Maximum constrain climate sensitivity? Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, 10.1029/2006GL027137 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    CLIMAP Project Members.The surface of the ice-age Earth. Science 191, 1131–1137 (1976).

  3. 3

    CLIMAP Project Members. Seasonal reconstruction of the Earth’s surface at the last glacial maximum (Map Chart Ser. MC-36, Geol. Soc. Am., 1981).

  4. 4

    Mix, A. C., Bard, E. & Schneider, R. Environmental processes of the ice ages: Land, oceans, glaciers (EPILOG). Quat. Sci. Rev. 20, 627–657 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Kucera, M., Rosell-Melé, A., Schneider, R., Waelbroeck, C. & Weinelt, M. Multiproxy approach for the reconstruction of the glacial ocean surface (MARGO). Quat. Sci. Rev. 24, 813–819 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Kageyama, M. et al. Last Glacial Maximum temperatures over the North Atlantic, Europe and western Siberia: A comparison between PMIP models, MARGO sea–surface temperatures and pollen-based reconstructions. Quat. Sci. Rev. 25, 2082–2102 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    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 

  8. 8

    Bard, E., Rostek, F. & Sonzogni, C. Interhemispheric synchrony of the last deglaciation inferred from alkenone paleothermometry. Nature 385, 707–710 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Trend-Staid, M. & Prell, W. L. Sea surface temperature at the Last Glacial Maximum: A reconstruction using the modern analog technique. Paleoceanography 17, 10.1029/2000PA000506 (2002).

  10. 10

    Rosell-Melé, A. et al. Sea surface temperature anomalies in the oceans at the LGM estimated from the alkenone- index: Comparison with GCMs. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L03208 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Pflaumann, U. et al. Glacial North Atlantic: Sea-surface conditions reconstructed by GLAMAP 2000. Paleoceanography 18, 10.1029/2002PA000774 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    World Ocean Atlas 1998: <> (NODC, Silver Springs, 1998).

  13. 13

    de Vernal, A. et al. Comparing proxies for the reconstruction of LGM sea-surface conditions in the northern North Atlantic. Quat. Sci. Rev. 25, 2820–2834 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Meland, M. Y., Jansen, E. & Elderfield, H. Constraints on SST estimates for the northern North Atlantic/Nordic Seas during the LGM. Quat. Sci. Rev. 24, 835–852 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Minoshima, K., Kawahata, H. & Ikehara, K. Changes in biological production in the mixed water region (MWR) of the northwestern North Pacific during the last 27 kyr. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 254, 430–447 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Large, W. G. & Danabasoglu, Attribution and impacts of upper ocean biases in CCSM3. J. Clim. 19, 2325–2346 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Solomon, S. et al. in Climate Change 2007, Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds Solomon, S. et al.) 19–91 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Kucera, M. et al. Reconstruction of the glacial Atlantic and Pacific sea-surface temperatures from assemblages of planktonic foraminifera: Multi-technique approach based on geographically constrained calibration datasets. Quat. Sci. Rev. 24, 951–998 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Barrows, T. T. & Juggins, S. Sea-surface temperatures around the Australian margin and Indian Ocean during the Last Glacial Maximum. Quat. Sci. Rev. 24, 1017–1047 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Barker, S., Cacho, I., Benway, H. & Tachikawa, K. Planktonic foraminiferal Mg/Ca as a proxy for past oceanic temperatures: A methodological overview and data compilation for the Last Glacial Maximum. Quat. Sci. Rev. 24, 821–834 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Lamy, F. et al. Antarctic timing of surface water changes off Chile and Patagonian ice sheet response. Science 304, 1959–1962 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Kaiser, J., Lamy, F. & Hebbeln, D. A 70-kyr sea surface temperature record off southern Chile (Ocean Drilling Program Site 1233). Paleoceanography 20, 10.1029/2005PA001146 (2005).

  23. 23

    Feldberg, M. J. & Mix, A. C. Sea-surface temperature estimates in the Southeast Pacific based on planktonic foraminiferal species; modern calibration and Last Glacial Maximum. Mar. Micropaleontol. 849, 1–29 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Sarnthein, M. et al. Overview of Glacial Atlantic Ocean Mapping (GLAMAP 2000). Paleoceanography 18, 10.1029/2002PA000769 (2003).

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Paul, A. & Schäfer-Neth, C. in The South Atlantic in the Late Quaternary: Reconstruction of Material Budgets and Current Systems (eds Wefer, G., Mulitza, S. & Ratmeyer, V.) 549–583 (Springer, 2004).

    Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Gersonde, R., Crosta, X., Abelmann, A. & Armand, L. K. Sea surface temperature and sea ice distribution of the last glacial Southern Ocean—A circum-Antarctic view based on siliceous microfossil records. Quat. Sci. Rev. 24, 869–896 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Schneider von Deimling, T., Held, H., Ganopolski, A. & Rahmstorf, S. Climate sensitivity estimated from ensemble simulations of glacial climate. Clim. Dyn. 27, 149–163 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Schäfer-Neth, C. & Paul, A. in The South Atlantic in the Late Quaternary: Material Budget and Current Systems (eds Wefer, G., Mulitza, S. & Ratmeyer, V.) 531–548 (Springer, 2004).

    Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Hargreaves, J. C., Abe-Ouchi, A. & Annan, J. D. Linking glacial and future climates through an ensemble of GCM simulations. Clim. Past 3, 77–87 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Wessel, P. & Smith, W. H. F. New improved version of Generic Mapping Tools released. EOS, Trans. Am. Geophys. Union 79, 579 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We are grateful to M. Kageyama, C. Dumas and J. Y. Peterschmitt for assistance with PMIP2 output files. We thank the HANSE Advanced Study Institute for hosting the first international MARGO workshop in Delmenhorst, Germany, in September 2002 and Fundació Abertis for hosting the second MARGO workshop in Castellet i la Gornal, Spain, in September 2003. We warmly thank the IGBP-PAGES project for its support. The MARGO project is an outcome of the EPILOG working group of IMAGES. C.W. is financially supported by CNRS and INSU.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to C. Waelbroeck.

Additional information

*A full list of authors and their affiliations appears at the end of the paper

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 7118 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Waelbroeck, C., Paul, A., Kucera, M. et al. Constraints on the magnitude and patterns of ocean cooling at the Last Glacial Maximum. Nature Geosci 2, 127–132 (2009).

Download citation

Further reading