skip to main content

Attention:

The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 5:00 PM ET until 11:00 PM ET on Friday, June 21 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Title: A Nepal stalagmite record reveals east-west antiphasing of Indian Summer Monsoon rainfall during the 4.2 ka event
The so-called “4.2 ka event” is a dramatic climate oscillation that impacted many areas of the mid-to-low latitudes spanning roughly 4.2-3.9 ka (ka = thousands of years ago). Records of this event have been identified on every continent except Antarctica, with clear evidence of precipitation being affected on a large scale. Subtropical and tropical regions of Africa and Asia experienced drought, while mid-latitude areas of Africa and Europe saw anomalously wet conditions. The 4.2 ka event is argued to have had a substantial cultural impact, including the collapse of numerous dynasties and cultures such as in the Indus valley and south-central China, as well as parts of Mesopotamia, northeastern Africa, and across parts of southeast Asia. However, despite its wide geographic extent and societal importance, a great deal remains unknown about the 4.2 ka event, its global effects, and its origins. The apparent lack of a climate anomaly in the polar regions at 4.2 ka suggests it may have originated in the tropics, possibly through the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). I analyzed a stalagmite (SB-18) from Siddha Cave, located in the Pokhara Valley of central Nepal (28.0N, 84.0E elev.~600 meters), a region that receives 80% of its annual 1500 mm of rainfall from the Indian Summer Monsoon (ISM). In contrast to many tropical stalagmite records, which use oxygen isotopes to track past monsoon rainfall, I focused on carbon isotopes because at Siddha Cave, oxygen isotopes in rainfall do not have a strong correlation to rainfall amount (the so-called “amount effect”). Carbon isotopes respond to hydroclimate variability through prior aragonite precipitation (PAP), which reflects out-gassing of carbon dioxide and precipitation of aragonite in voids in the bedrock above the cave. This process preferentially removes 12C from the infiltrating water that subsequently migrates downward into the cave. During periods with less rainfall, open spaces in the bedrock are more likely to be dewatered, thereby allowing for more prior aragonite precipitation. In order to ensure that carbon isotopes accurately capture ISM rainfall variability, I also examined uranium abundances in the same stalagmite. Changes in the concentration of uranium are also driven by PAP: uranium is incorporated into aragonite preferentially over dripwater and thus PAP reduces the amount of uranium in dripwater, thereby decreasing uranium in the underlying stalagmite. Carbon isotopes and U abundances in SB-18 suggest that central Nepal experienced anomalously high rainfall during the 4.2 ka event, in contrast with the majority of lower latitude sites around the globe, including a cave record from northeastern India, that record a reduction in rainfall at this time. This rainfall dipole provides an important climatic fingerprint that allows us to investigate the origins of the 4.2 ka event through analysis of modern climate data, including rainfall anomalies associated with ENSO.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
2102864
NSF-PAR ID:
10504856
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Publisher / Repository:
Cornell College
Date Published:
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Over the late Holocene, a variety of hydroclimate-sensitive proxies have identified substantial, multidecadal changes in Indian summer monsoon (ISM) precipitation, the most prominent of which is the “4.2 ka event”. This interval, dated to ~4.2-3.9 ka, is associated with severe droughts across South Asia that are linked to societal change. Given the absence of the 4.2 ka event in polar records, the 4.2 ka event is generally associated with low latitude forcings, but no clear consensus on its origins has been reached. We investigated the ISM response to the 4.2 ka event through analysis of aragonite stalagmites from Siddha cave, formed in the lower Paleozoic Dhading dolomite in the Pokhara Valley of central Nepal (28.0˚N, 84.1˚E; ~850 m.a.s.l.). The climate of this region is dominated by small monthly variations in air temperature (21±5˚C) but strong precipitation seasonality associated with the ISM: ~80% of the annual 3900 mm of rainfall occurs between June and September. High uranium and low detrital thorium abundances in these stalagmites yield precise U/Th ages that all fall within stratigraphic order. These dates reveal continuous growth from 4.30-2.26 ka, interrupted only by a hiatus from 3.27-3.10 ka. Overlap with coeval aragonite stalagmites reveals generally consistent trends in carbon and oxygen isotope ratios, suggesting that these stalagmites reflect environmental variability and not secondary (e.g., kinetic) effects. Many stalagmite-based paleomonsoon reconstructions rely on oxygen isotope ratios, which track amount effects in regional rainfall. However, our on-going rainwater collection and analysis program, as well as a previous study conducted in Kathmandu, 120 km the east of Siddha cave, reveals that amount effects in precipitation are weak in this region, particularly during the monsoon season, and thus we rely instead on carbon isotope ratios, which have been demonstrated to track site-specific effective precipitation. Siddha cave stalagmite carbon isotopes, in contrast to other South Asian proxy records, indicate that ISM rainfall increased at Siddha cave from 4.13-3.91 ka. As a further test of this result, we analyzed uranium abundances in the section spanning 4.3-3.4 ka. Uranium serves as an indicator of prior aragonite precipitation and thus of hydroclimate, and like carbon isotopes, suggests increased ISM rainfall coincident with the 4.2 ka event. This precipitation anomaly is nearly identical in timing and structure but anti-phased with stalagmites from Mawmluh cave, northeastern India. We investigated the climatic origins of this precipitation dipole using observational data from the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre (GPCC) and Hadley Center Sea Ice and Sea Surface Temperature (HadISST) products. Preliminary spatial composites suggest that large precipitation differences between Mawmluh and Siddha caves are associated with SST anomalies in the equatorial Pacific. Additionally, superposed Epoch Analysis shows relatively rapid eastern Indian Ocean cooling during the summer monsoon season coeval with large precipitation differences between these sites. Our findings lend support to a tropical Indo-Pacific origin of the 4.2 ka event. 
    more » « less
  2. The eruption of Mount Samalas in Indonesia ~1257 CE has been argued to be one of the largest eruptions of the last two millennia. It released a monumental amount of volcanic aerosols, and reduced incoming solar energy by more than 30 W/m² (Sigl et al., 2015). Large volcanic eruptions can cause short term (generally 5 years for tropical eruptions like Samalas) regional or global climate shifts, which include changes to monsoon rainfall (Ridley et al, 2015; Sigl et al., 2015). In order to investigate the impact of this eruption on the Indian summer monsoon in Nepal, I analyzed at ultra-high resolution the carbon and oxygen isotopes of a fast growing, precisely dated aragonite stalagmite from Siddha cave (28.26689°, 83.96851°, 820m), located in the Pokhara valley in central Nepal, leading up to and through the period spanned by the Mount Samalas eruption. Each micro milled sample was ~40 µm wide and the area sampled was ~1 cm , for a total of 261 analyses. Stalagmites are composed of calcium carbonate, with the oxygen coming primarily from precipitation dripping into the cave. Studies of oxygen isotopes in precipitation, both near Siddha cave and in Kathmandu (130 km to the southeast), reveal that the amount effects in oxygen isotopes are weak in this region. The amount effect, a relationship saying that the precipitation amount has a negative relationship with oxygen isotope values, is very weak in this region. Therefore, I relied on carbon isotopes as a proxy for site-specific rainfall. Carbon isotopes in stalagmite carbonate originate from the soil and bedrock around, and as the drip water infiltrates the earth, it begins to dissolve CO2. This process continues until the drip water is supersaturated and the pressure differential forces calcite (or aragonite) to precipitate out of the drip water and crystalize. The carbon isotopes define sinusoids that appear to represent annual cycles of rainfall associated with the summer monsoon and the winter dry season. While some outliers exist, the total number of season cycles (18-21) is within error of the number of years of growth as determined by U/Th dating (1 cm = 26 ± 8 years). To investigate the impact of the eruption on the regional climate, we detrended the carbon isotope data and then calculated anomaly values in the wet and dry season relative to the mean of those values. The most prominent feature of the time series is two large positive isotope anomalies, separated by a moderate negative isotope anomaly. I interpret these to reflect disruptions to both the wet and dry season precipitation cycles from aerosol forcing from Mount Samalas. If correct, then this data reveals, somewhat surprisingly, an anomalously wet monsoon season in the first year after the eruption and only 1 year of reduced summer monsoon rainfall following the eruption before a return to pre-eruption summer monsoon rainfall activity. References Ridley, H. E. et al. (2015). Aerosol forcing of the position of the intertropical convergence zone since ad 1550. Nature Geoscience, 8(3), 195–200. Sigl, M. et al. (2015). Timing and climate forcing of volcanic eruptions for the past 2,500 years. Nature, 523(7562), 543–549. 
    more » « less
  3. The 1257 CE eruption of Mt. Samalas in Indonesia is argued to be the largest of the last two millennia in terms of global volcanic aerosol forcing, with a reduction in insolation of more than 30 W/m2 (Sigl et al., 2015, Nature, 523). Large volcanic eruptions are tied to short-term climatic shifts, including changes to monsoon rainfall (Ridley et al., 2015, Nature Geoscience, 8). In order to investigate the impact of this eruption on the Indian summer monsoon in Nepal, we analyzed at ultra-high resolution the carbon and oxygen isotopes of a fast-growing, precisely-dated aragonite stalagmite from Siddha cave in the Pokhara Valley of central Nepal (28.0˚ N, 84.1˚ E; ~850 m.a.s.l.). We micromilled the stalagmite in ~40 µm-wide traverses during the interval through the Mt. Samalas eruption (a total of 261 analyses). Studies near Siddha cave and in Kathmandu, 130 km to the southeast, reveal that amount effects of oxygen isotopes in precipitation in this region are weak, and so we rely on carbon isotopes as a proxy for rainfall. Carbon isotopes define sinusoids that appear to represent annual cycles of rainfall associated with the summer monsoon and winter dry season. The average magnitude of these cycles is ~0.3 to 0.6‰. While some ambiguities exist, the number of seasonal cycles (18-21) is within error of the years of growth for this interval as determined by U/Th dating (26±8 years). To investigate the impact of the eruption on regional hydroclimate, we detrended the carbon isotope data and then calculated anomalies in the wet and dry seasons relative to the mean of those values. The most prominent feature of the time series is two large positive isotope anomalies separated by a moderate negative isotope anomaly. We interpret these to reflect disruptions to both the monsoon and dry season precipitation regimes by aerosol forcing from Mt. Samalas. If true, then these results reveal somewhat surprising an anomalously wet monsoon season in the first year after the eruption and that seasonal sinusoids return to their pre-eruption pattern after only two years following the eruption. In order to better understand these results, we investigate this interval using the Last Millennium Ensemble, a state-of-the-art suite of climate model simulations conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research with the Community Earth System Model. 
    more » « less
  4. The Indian summer monsoon (ISM), which today supplies ~75% of annual precipitation to South Asia, has been reconstructed across previous centuries using a variety of hydroclimate-sensitive proxies. In some of these cases, ISM variability far exceeds that observed in the century-and-a-half-long instrumental record. Understanding the origins of these events is best addressed by developing a wide-ranging, multi-proxy network of high-resolution ISM reconstructions. In Nepal, ISM variability has been examined through tree rings, glacial ice, and lake sediments, but no stalagmite isotopic records of ISM rainfall have yet been published. Here we present a sub-decadally-resolved, precisely-dated, composite aragonite stalagmite record of ISM variability from Siddha Baba cave, central Nepal, for the last 2.7 kyr. A rainwater sampling program near the cave site, and a published study from Kathmandu (Adhikari et al., 2020), 150 km to the southeast, reveal that rainfall amount explains little of the observed variance in d18O values. Local hydroclimate is thus reconstructed from stalagmite 13C values, which we interpret as reflecting prior aragonite precipitation driven by changes in effective precipitation above the cave. ISM variability is apparent across a number of time scales, including centennial periods of reduced or enhanced rainfall coincident with societally-relevant precipitation regimes identified at other sites across South Asia. These include the Neo-Assyrian drought in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East (2.7-2.5 kyr BP; Kathayat et al., 2019), the Mauria Empire (2.1-1.9 kyr BP), and the Guge Kingdom (0.9-0.3 kyr BP) pluvials in India and Tibet (Kathayat et al., 2017). A secular shift toward drier conditions since 0.5 kyr BP in the Siddha Baba record tracks the 18O records from Dasuopu glacier, Nepal Himalaya, and Sahiya cave, North India. Numerous multidecadal oscillations are also evident, including markedly wetter conditions during the 18th century, in the late Little Ice Age, apparent in the Dasuopu and Sahiya records. References Adhikari et al. (2020) Tellus B: Chem. Phys. Meteor., 72, 1-17. Kathayat et al. (2017) Sc. Adv., 7, e1701296. Kathayat et al. (2019) Sci. Adv., 5, eaax6656. 
    more » « less
  5. The Indian Summer Monsoon [ISM] provides approximately 80% of South Asia’s annual average precipitation. Nepal represents a particularly important sector of the ISM because of its location at the base of the Himalayas, Asia’s water tower, and in the zone of influence of the mid-latitude westerlies. Late Holocene ISM variability has previously been examined using high resolution resolved stable isotope records of stalagmites from northern, northeastern, and central India, but as of yet, no such records have been published from Nepal. We present high resolution stable isotopic time series from two precisely-dated and partially overlapping stalagmites spanning the last 2400 years from Siddha Baba Cave, central Nepal, as well as a year of isotopic data from rainwater collected near the cave. It has been suggested that the amount effect has only a minor effect on the oxygen isotope variability in precipitation in this area. As a result, we couple oxygen and carbon isotopes from these stalagmites to examine both regional and local-scale ISM dynamics. The Siddha Baba record reveals two periods suggestive of changes in the ISM: an apparent increase in rainfall during approximately CE 1350-1550 and a reduction in rainfall characterizing the last two centuries. We investigate these intervals using the Last Millennium Ensemble, a state-of-the-art suite of climate model simulations conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research with the Community Earth System Model. A primary focus is on links between Indo-Pacific ocean-atmosphere interactions and subsequent changes in the monsoon circulation over the Indian subcontinent, as well as regional moisture transport into Nepal between these periods. 
    more » « less