Letter | Published:

Orbitally driven east–west antiphasing of South American precipitation

Nature Geoscience volume 2, pages 210214 (2009) | Download Citation

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Abstract

The variations of tropical precipitation are antiphased between the hemispheres on orbital timescales. This antiphasing arises through the alternating strength of incoming solar radiation in the two hemispheres, which affects monsoon intensity and hence the position of the meridional atmospheric circulation of the Hadley cells1,2,3,4. Here we compare an oxygen isotopic record recovered from a speleothem from northeast Brazil for the past 26,000 years with existing reconstructions of precipitation in tropical South America5,6,7,8. During the Holocene, we identify a similar, but zonally oriented, antiphasing of precipitation within the same hemisphere: northeast Brazil experiences humid conditions during low summer insolation and aridity when summer insolation is high, whereas the rest of southern tropical South America shows opposite characteristics. Simulations with a general circulation model that incorporates isotopic variations support this pattern as well as the link to insolation-driven monsoon activity. Our results suggest that convective heating over tropical South America and associated adjustments in large-scale subsidence over northeast Brazil lead to a remote forcing of the South American monsoon, which determines most of the precipitation changes in the region on orbital timescales.

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Acknowledgements

We thank M. H. Hollanda, L. Mancine and A. Barros for all the support during the stable isotope data acquisition at the University of São Paulo. We are grateful to IBAMA/C. Mendes for permission to collect stalagmite samples, and in particular to J. Cruz for helping us in the field. This work was supported by the Fundação de Amparo a Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP), Brazil (grant to F.W.C and I.K.).

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Affiliations

  1. Instituto de Geociências, Universidade de São Paulo, Rua do Lago, 562, CEP 05508-080, São Paulo-SP, Brazil

    • Francisco W. Cruz
    •  & Ivo Karmann
  2. Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University at Albany, SUNY, 1400 Washington Ave, Albany, New York 12222, USA

    • Mathias Vuille
    •  & Hanh Nguyen
  3. Department of Geosciences, Morrill Science Center, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts 01003, USA

    • Stephen J. Burns
  4. Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA

    • Xianfeng Wang
    • , Hai Cheng
    •  & R. Lawrence Edwards
  5. Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bussestr. 24, D-27570 Bremerhaven, Germany

    • Martin Werner
  6. Instituto do Carste, Rua Kepler 385/04, Belo Horizonte, MG 30360-240, Brazil

    • Augusto S. Auler

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Correspondence to Francisco W. Cruz.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo444