Increasing Australian–Indonesian monsoon rainfall linked to early Holocene sea-level rise


The Australian–Indonesian summer monsoon affects rainfall variability and hence terrestrial productivity in the densely populated tropical Indo–Pacific region. It has been proposed that the main control of summer monsoon precipitation on millennial timescales is local insolation1,2,3, but unravelling the mechanisms that have influenced monsoon variability and teleconnections has proven difficult, owing to the lack of high-resolution records of past monsoon behaviour. Here we present a precisely dated reconstruction of monsoon rainfall over the past 12,000 years, based on oxygen isotope measurements from two stalagmites collected in southeast Indonesia. We show that the summer monsoon precipitation increased during the Younger Dryas cooling event, when Atlantic meridional overturning circulation was relatively weak4. Monsoon precipitation intensified even more rapidly from 11,000 to 7,000 years ago, when the Indonesian continental shelf was flooded by global sea-level rise5,6,7. We suggest that the intensification during the Younger Dryas cooling was caused by enhanced winter monsoon outflow from Asia and a related southward migration of the intertropical convergence zone8. However, the early Holocene intensification of monsoon precipitation was driven by sea-level rise, which increased the supply of moisture to the Indonesian archipelago.

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Figure 1: Moisture-source trajectories and rainwater isotope ratios for Liang Luar cave.
Figure 2: Liang Luar stalagmite δ18O record and other palaeoclimate records.
Figure 3: Comparison of palaeoclimate records between Flores, southern China and northern South America during the Younger Dryas cooling.


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We thank N. Anderson, G. Smith and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) for logistical support and technical assistance with fieldwork, which was carried out under LIPI Research Permit number 3551/I/KS/2006. We also thank H. Scott-Gagan, J. Cowley and J. Cali for laboratory assistance and O. Ray-Lescure for help with Fig. 1. Comments by F. W. Cruz significantly improved the manuscript. This study was supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award to M.L.G. and an Australian Research Council grant (DP0663274) to M.K.G., J.-x. Z., R.N.D. and W.S.H. The authors gratefully acknowledge the NOAA Air Resources Laboratory (ARL) for providing the HYSPLIT transport and dispersion model and/or READY website ( used in this publication.

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M.L.G. and L.K.A. were responsible for the geochemical analysis of the oxygen isotopes. M.K.G. was Chief Investigator and R.N.D., J.-x.Z., and W.S.H. were Partner Investigators. J.C.H., Y.-x.F., J.-x.Z and E.St.P. were responsible for the U/Th dating. I.C. was responsible for the isotopic analysis of the rainwater. M.J.F. helped with the interpretation of the oxygen isotopes. B.W.S. assisted in the collection of samples in June 2006. M.L.G., R.N.D., M.K.G. and S.F. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to M. L. Griffiths or M. K. Gagan.

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Griffiths, M., Drysdale, R., Gagan, M. et al. Increasing Australian–Indonesian monsoon rainfall linked to early Holocene sea-level rise. Nature Geosci 2, 636–639 (2009).

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