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Decadal warming events extended into central North America during the last glacial period


The connection between abrupt high-latitude warming during the last glacial period—Dansgaard–Oeschger (DO) events—and rapid climate changes at lower latitudes has revealed inter-hemispheric teleconnections in the ocean–atmosphere system. Links between DO events and climate variability in mid-latitude, mid-continent settings remain, however, poorly understood, especially in North America where climate archives with sufficient time resolution are scarce. Here we examine a speleothem that grew from ~70–50 thousand years ago (ka) in Wisconsin (United States) and combine fluorescent imaging of its growth banding with an annual-resolution oxygen isotope (δ18O) record. Eight large (2.0–3.0‰) negative δ18O excursions, each with an onset in <10 annual growth bands, occur between 61–55 ka, when DO events 17–14 are recorded in the ice core of the North Greenland Ice Core Project. Although the age model does not allow these δ18O excursions to be matched to specific DO events, their magnitude and rapid onset support a credible link. Isotope-enabled climate simulations suggest that abrupt DO warming would increase the δ18O of annual precipitation in the study area and corroborate that warming of >10 °C in <10 years is thus required to produce the observed negative δ18O excursions. Our findings of expansive abrupt DO warming in central North America has implications for environmental, climate and ice sheet dynamics.

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Fig. 1: North American speleothem δ18O records from the last glacial period and their corresponding magnitude of δ18O change that occurred during a time of DO events in Greenland.
Fig. 2: Stalagmite CM-5 δ18O record in comparison to other regional δ18O records of the last glacial period.
Fig. 3: The timing and rate of negative δ18O excursions in the CM-5 stalagmite record.
Fig. 4: Modelled monthly climate data from two isotope-enabled climate model simulations of DO and glacial analog conditions.

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Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration palaeoclimate database:


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This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) (grant P2C2-1805629 to S.A.M. and I.J.O.); the WiscSIMS Laboratory, which is supported by NSF (grants EAR-1355590, EAR-1658823); the University of Wisconsin–Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education with funding from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (F.H.) and the Isotope Laboratory at the University of Minnesota (R.L.E.). This research used resources of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under contract number DE-AC05-00OR22725 (F.H.). We thank J. Klimczak and A. Wescott for their permission to collect stalagmite samples at Cave of the Mounds, R. Slaughter for sample collection help, D. Rogers for sample preparation, L. Rodenkirch for CLFM help at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Optical Imaging Core and associated colleagues for prior U–Th analyses at the University of Minnesota. Stalagmite CM-5 is curated at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Geology Museum.

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Authors and Affiliations



C.J.B. performed all sample analyses and sample processing and with S.A.M. and I.J.O conceptualized the project and acquired the funding for sample collection and oxygen isotope analysis for the project. R.L.E. provided funding and support for the geochronology of samples, while C.J.B. performed geochronological lab work on samples at University of Minnesota. F.H. performed the climate model simulation and contributed to the interpretation of oxygen isotope excursions. C.J.B., S.A.M. and I.J.O wrote the original draft, and all authors participated in the final writing and editing of the paper.

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Correspondence to C. J. Batchelor.

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Nature Geoscience thanks Jessica Oster, Joseph Ortiz and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: James Super in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Stalagmite sample CM-5 with U-Th ages and constructed age/depth model.

(Left) Cross-sectional photo of stalagmite sample CM-5, with the labelled location of U-Th pits used to identify growth periods. (Right) The constructed age-depth model using OxCal54.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Confocal laser fluorescent microscopy image of stalagmite CM-5.

A high-resolution CLFM image of the full sample transect for speleothem CM-5, with labelled locations of U-Th pits (white arrows). Note bottom to top growth direction goes from the bottom right (oldest) to the top left (youngest).

Extended Data Fig. 3 QGIS database for sample CM-5.

(a) Base reference layer of sample CM-5, which is a cross-sectional photo of sample CM-5 down the central growth axis. U-Th ages are labelled (white pits with labelled ages) and a scale down the central growth axis is shown to show how depths of each U-Th age was found. (b) CLFM image of sample CM-5 geo-referenced on top of the base layer. (c) White/reflected-light optical image of the CM-5 SIMS sample surface. (d) SIMS δ18O points measured down the central growth axis of sample CM5. (e) Zoomed-in panel showing the labelled SIMS δ18O points for a section of sample CM-5, with each individual SIMS pit being 10-μm in diameter.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Modelled summer precipitation rate (JJA, mm yr−1) in isoCAM simulations.

Plotted are modelled precipitation rate during GI (middle), GS (bottom) and the differences (GI minus GS, top). The simulated increase of the precipitation at COM originates from both Eastern Tropical Pacific and Gulf of Mexico, and therefore bring more positive δ18O from tropics to COM.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Modelled annual surface temperature (K) in isoCAM simulations.

Plotted are modelled temperature during GI (top left), GS (top right), the differences (GI minus GS, bottom left) with the significance at the 0.05 level (shading, lower right) based on 50-year simulations for GI and GS.

Extended Data Table 1 Results from ISOLUTION modelling experiments as outlined in text of Supplementary Information

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Discussion and References.

Supplementary Tables 1–5

This file contains Supplementary Tables S1–S5, which contains SIMS data (TS1 and TS2), modelling data (TS3 and TS5) and U–Th chronology (TS4).

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Batchelor, C.J., Marcott, S.A., Orland, I.J. et al. Decadal warming events extended into central North America during the last glacial period. Nat. Geosci. 16, 257–261 (2023).

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