skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Friday, May 17 until 8:00 AM ET on Saturday, May 18 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: Hydroclimate Dipole Drives Multi‐Centennial Variability in the Western Tropical North Atlantic Margin During the Middle and Late Holocene

Meridional shifts of the North Atlantic Subtropical High (NASH) western edge create a dipole that drives hydroclimate variability in the southeastern United States and Caribbean region. Southwest displacements suppress rainfall in the southern Caribbean. Northwest displacements drive southeast United States and northern Caribbean drying. Projections for the 21st century suggest a more meridionally displaced NASH, which jeopardizes Caribbean island communities dependent on rain‐fed aquifers. While recent work indicates that Atlantic and Pacific Ocean‐atmosphere variability influenced the NASH during the instrumental period, little is known about NASH behavior and subsequent hydroclimate responses over longer timescales. To address this limitation, we developed a ∼6000‐years long rainfall record through the analysis of calcite raft deposits archived within sediments from a coastal sinkhole in the northeast Bahamas (Abaco Island). Increased (decreased) calcite raft deposition provides evidence for increased (decreased) rainfall driven by NASH variability. We use simulations from the Community Earth System Model to support this interpretation. These simulations improve our understanding of NASH behavior on timescales congruous with the reconstruction and suggest an important role for the state of the Pacific Ocean. Furthermore, model simulations and a compilation of regional hydroclimate reconstructions reveal that the NASH‐driven dipole dominates northern and southern Caribbean rainfall on centennial timescales. These results bring Holocene Caribbean hydroclimate variability into sharper focus while providing important context for present and future changes to regional climate. Additionally, this study highlights the need for improved future predictions of the state of the Pacific Ocean to best inform water scarcity mitigation strategies for at‐risk Caribbean communities.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Intensification and western displacement of the North Atlantic Subtropical High (NASH) is projected for this century, which can decrease Caribbean and southeastern American rainfall on seasonal and annual timescales. However, additional hydroclimate records are needed from the northern Caribbean to understand the long-term behavior of the NASH, and better forecast its future behavior. Here we present a multi-proxy sinkhole lake reconstruction from a carbonate island that is proximal to the NASH (Abaco Island, The Bahamas). The reconstruction indicates the northern Bahamas experienced a drought from ∼3300 to ∼2500 Cal yrs BP, which coincides with evidence from other hydroclimate and oceanographic records (e.g., Africa, Caribbean, and South America) for a synchronous southern displacement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone and North Atlantic Hadley Cell. The specific cause of the hydroclimate change in the northeastern Caribbean region from ∼3300 to 2500 Cal yrs BP was probably coeval southern or western displacement of the NASH, which would have increased northeastern Caribbean exposure to subsiding air from higher altitudes. 
    more » « less
  2. Uncertainty about the influence of anthropogenic radiative forcing on the position and strength of convective rainfall in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) inhibits our ability to project future tropical hydroclimate change in a warmer world. Paleoclimatic and modeling data inform on the timescales and mechanisms of ITCZ variability; yet a comprehensive, long-term perspective remains elusive. Here, we quantify the evolution of neotropical hydroclimate over the preindustrial past millennium (850 to 1850 CE) using a synthesis of 48 paleo-records, accounting for uncertainties in paleo-archive age models. We show that an interhemispheric pattern of precipitation antiphasing occurred on multicentury timescales in response to changes in natural radiative forcing. The conventionally defined “Little Ice Age” (1450 to 1850 CE) was marked by a clear shift toward wetter conditions in the southern neotropics and a less distinct and spatiotemporally complex transition toward drier conditions in the northern neotropics. This pattern of hydroclimatic change is consistent with results from climate model simulations indicating that a relative cooling of the Northern Hemisphere caused a southward shift in the thermal equator across the Atlantic basin and a southerly displacement of the ITCZ in the tropical Americas, with volcanic forcing as the principal driver. These findings are at odds with proxy-based reconstructions of ITCZ behavior in the western Pacific basin, where changes in ITCZ width and intensity, rather than mean position, appear to have driven hydroclimate transitions over the last millennium. This reinforces the idea that ITCZ responses to external forcing are region specific, complicating projections of the tropical precipitation response to global warming. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Oxygen isotope speleothems have been widely used to infer past climate changes over tropical South America (TSA). However, the spatial patterns of the millennial precipitation and precipitationδ18O (δ18Op) response have remained controversial, and their response mechanisms are unclear. In particular, it is not clear whether the regional precipitation represents the intensity of the millennial South American summer monsoon (SASM). Here, we study the TSA hydroclimate variability during the last deglaciation (20–11 ka ago) by combining transient simulations of an isotope-enabled Community Earth System Model (iCESM) and the speleothem records over the lowland TSA. Our model reasonably simulates the deglacial evolution of hydroclimate variables and water isotopes over the TSA, albeit underestimating the amplitude of variability. North Atlantic meltwater discharge is the leading factor driving the TSA’s millennial hydroclimate variability. The spatial pattern of both precipitation andδ18Opshow a northwest–southeast dipole associated with the meridional migration of the intertropical convergence zone, instead of a continental-wide coherent change as inferred in many previous works on speleothem records. The dipole response is supported by multisource paleoclimate proxies. In response to increased meltwater forcing, the SASM weakened (characterized by a decreased low-level easterly wind) and consequently reduced rainfall in the western Amazon and increased rainfall in eastern Brazil. A similar dipole response is also generated by insolation, ice sheets, and greenhouse gases, suggesting an inherent stability of the spatial characteristics of the SASM regardless of the external forcing and time scales. Finally, we discuss the potential reasons for the model–proxy discrepancy and pose the necessity to build more paleoclimate proxy data in central-western Amazon.

    Significance Statement

    We want to reconcile the controversy on whether there is a coherent or heterogeneous response in millennial hydroclimate over tropical South America and to clearly understand the forcing mechanisms behind it. Our isotope-enabled transient simulations fill the gap in speleothem reconstructions to capture a complete picture of millennial precipitation/δ18Opand monsoon intensity change. We highlight a heterogeneous dipole response in precipitation andδ18Opon millennial and orbital time scales. Increased meltwater discharge shifts ITCZ southward and favors a wet condition in coastal Brazil. Meanwhile, the low-level easterly and the summer monsoon intensity reduced, causing a dry condition in the central-western Amazon. However, the millennial variability of hydroclimate response is underestimated in our model, together with the lack of direct paleoclimate proxies in the central-west Amazon, complicating the interpretation of changes in specific paleoclimate events and posing a challenge to constraining the spatial range of the dipole. Therefore, we emphasize the necessity to increase the source of proxies, enhance proxy interpretations, and improve climate model performance in the future.

    more » « less
  4. In the southwestern United States, California (CA) is one of the most climatically sensitive regions given its low (≤250 mm/year) seasonal precipitation and its inherently variable hydroclimate, subject to large magnitude modulation. To reconstruct past climate change in CA, cave calcite deposits (stalagmites) have been utilized as an archive for environmentally sensitive proxies, such as stable isotope compositions (δ18O, δ13C) and trace element concentrations (e.g., Mg, Ba, Sr). Monitoring the cave and associated surface environments, the chemical evolution of cave drip-water, the calcite precipitated from the drip-water, and the response of these systems to seasonal variability in precipitation and temperature is imperative for interpreting stalagmite proxies. Here we present monitored drip-water and physical parameters at Lilburn Cave, Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park (Southern Sierra Nevada), CA, and measured trace element concentrations (Mg, Sr, Ba, Cu, Fe, Mn) and stable isotopic compositions (δ18O, δ2H) of drip-water and for calcite (δ18O) precipitated on glass substrates over a two-year period (November 2018 to February 2021) to better understand how chemical variability at this site is influenced by local and regional precipitation and temperature variability. Despite large variability in surface temperatures and precipitation amount and source region (North Pacific vs. subtropical Pacific), Lilburn Cave exhibits a constant cave environment year-round. At two of the three sites within the cave, drip-water δ18O and δ2H are influenced seasonally by evaporative enrichment. At a third collection site in the cave, the drip-water δ18O responds solely to precipitation δ18O variability. The Mg/Ca, Ba/Ca, and Sr/Ca ratios are seasonally responsive to prior calcite precipitation at all sites but minimally to water-rock interaction. Lastly, we examine the potential of trace metals (e.g., Mn2+and Cu2+as a geochemical proxy of recharge and find that variability in their concentrations has high potential to denote the onset of the rainy season in the study region. The drip-water composition is recorded in the calcite, demonstrating that stalagmites from Lilburn Cave, and potentially more regionally, could record seasonal variability in weather even during periods of substantially reduced rainfall.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    We present a 500‐year precipitation‐sensitive record based on co‐varying speleothem δ18O values and Mg/Ca ratios from Larga cave in Puerto Rico. This multi‐proxy record shows that the evolution of rainfall in the northeastern Caribbean was characterized by alternating centennial dry and wet phases corresponding to reduced versus enhanced convective activity. These phases occurred synchronous with relatively cool and warm tropical Atlantic sea‐surface temperatures (SSTs), respectively. While the observed pattern suggests a close link of northeastern Caribbean rainfall to the Atlantic Multidecadal Variability, a regional comparison reveals intermittent regional heterogeneity especially on decadal timescales, which may be related to a superimposing influence of the Pacific and Atlantic basins. Furthermore, the speleothem‐based hydroclimate reconstruction indicates a significant volcanic impact during the past two centuries, and further reveals a potential solar signal in the preceding three centuries. We posit that the forcing likely shifted from solar to volcanic during the eighteenth century in being an important source of multidecadal to centennial Caribbean rainfall variability. The link between convective rainfall and natural forcing may be explained through a modulation of SST variations in the tropical Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

    more » « less