Rapid oceanic and atmospheric changes during the Younger Dryas cold period


The Younger Dryas event, which began approximately 12,900 years ago, was a period of rapid cooling in the Northern Hemisphere, driven by large-scale reorganizations of patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation1,2,3. Environmental changes during this period have been documented by both proxy-based reconstructions3 and model simulations4, but there is currently no consensus on the exact mechanisms of onset, stabilization or termination of the Younger Dryas5,6,7,8. Here we present high-resolution records from two sediment cores obtained from Lake Kråkenes in western Norway and the Nordic seas. Multiple proxies from Lake Kråkenes are indicative of rapid alternations between glacial growth and melting during the later Younger Dryas. Meanwhile, reconstructed sea surface temperature and salinity from the Nordic seas show an alternation between sea-ice cover and the influx of warm, salty North Atlantic waters. We suggest that the influx of warm water enabled the westerly wind systems to drift northward, closer to their present-day positions. The winds thus brought relatively warm maritime air to Northern Europe, resulting in rising temperatures and the melting of glaciers. Subsequent input of this fresh meltwater into the ocean spurred the formation of sea ice, which forced the westerly winds back to the south, cooling Northern Europe. We conclude that rapid alternations between these two states immediately preceded the termination of the Younger Dryas and the permanent transition to an interglacial state.

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Figure 1: Four sites around the North Atlantic with different proxies from the Younger Dryas time interval at high resolution.
Figure 2: Diagram illustrating the atmospheric and oceanic conditions during the Younger Dryas.


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Thanks to A. Nesje and S. O. Dahl for help with the fieldwork at Kråkenes. Thanks to B. Kvisvik for help in the laboratory and to Ø. Paasche for discussions. This is a contribution to X-LAKE and ARCTREC financially supported by the Norwegian Research Council (NCR). The marine work has been financially supported by the Rapid projects VAMOC and ORMEN, supported by the NCR, project number 169931 and 169932/S30. Thanks also to the IMAGES program and R/V Marion Dufresne for making the marine core available for our work. This is publication number A216 from the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research.

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J.B. and Ø.L. managed the sediment analyses of lake Kråkenes and developed the original conceptual hypothesis. E.H. and T.N. built the statistical toolkits and carried out all statistical analyses. T.D. contributed material, interpretation and analyses from MD99-2284 and developed conceptual ideas. G.H. provided access to GFZ Potsdam’s XRF laboratory and contributed to interpretation and building conceptual hypotheses. H.H.B. provided data from Kråkenes. P.D. managed the XRF laboratory and measurements. All authors collaborated on the text.

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Correspondence to Jostein Bakke.

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Bakke, J., Lie, Ø., Heegaard, E. et al. Rapid oceanic and atmospheric changes during the Younger Dryas cold period. Nature Geosci 2, 202–205 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo439

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