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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 31, 2024
  2. The Little Ice Age (LIA) was one of the coldest periods of the postglacial period in the Northern Hemisphere. Although there is increasing evidence that this time interval was associated with weakening of the subpolar gyre (SPG), the sequence of events that led to its weakened state has yet to be explained. Here, we show that the LIA was preceded by an exceptional intrusion of warm Atlantic water into the Nordic Seas in the late 1300s. The intrusion was a consequence of persistent atmospheric blocking over the North Atlantic, linked to unusually high solar activity. The warmer water led to the breakup of sea ice and calving of tidewater glaciers; weakening of the blocking anomaly in the late 1300s allowed the large volume of ice that had accumulated to be exported into the North Atlantic. This led to a weakening of the SPG, setting the stage for the subsequent LIA. 
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  3. Persistent droughts in Arabia were coincident with profound societal changes there during the 6th century CE. 
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  4. Abstract

    The history of the Polynesian civilization on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) over the Common Era has come to exemplify the fragile relationship humans have with their environment. Social dynamics, deforestation, land degradation, and climatic shifts have all been proposed as important parts of the settlement history and societal transformations on Rapa Nui. Furthermore, climate dynamics of the Southeast Pacific have major global implications. While the wetlands of Rapa Nui contain critical sedimentological archives for reconstructing past hydrological change on the island, connections between the island’s hydroclimate and fundamental aspects of regional climatology are poorly understood. Here we present a hydroclimatology of Rapa Nui showing that there is a clear seasonal cycle of precipitation, with wet months receiving almost twice as much precipitation as dry months. This seasonal cycle can be explained by the seasonal shifts in the location and strength of the climatological south Pacific subtropical anticyclone. For interannual precipitation variability, we find that the occurrence of infrequent, large rain events explains 92% of the variance of the observed annual mean precipitation time series. Approximately one third (33%) of these events are associated with atmospheric rivers, 21% are associated with classic cold-front synoptic systems, and the remainder are characterized by cut-off lows and other synoptic-scale storm systems. As a group, these large rain events are most strongly controlled by the longitudinal position of the south Pacific subtropical anticyclone. The longitudinal location of this anticyclone explains 21% of the variance in the frequency of large rain events, while the remaining variance is left unexplained by any other major atmosphere-ocean dynamics. We find that over the observational era there appears to be no linear relationship between the number of large rain events and any other major climate phenomena. With the south Pacific subtropical anticyclone projected to strengthen and expand westward under global warming, our results imply that Rapa Nui will experience an increase in the number of dry years in the future.

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  5. Abstract

    The Faroe Islands, a North Atlantic archipelago between Norway and Iceland, were settled by Viking explorers in the mid-9th century CE. However, several indirect lines of evidence suggest earlier occupation of the Faroes by people from the British Isles. Here, we present sedimentary ancient DNA and molecular fecal biomarker evidence from a lake sediment core proximal to a prominent archaeological site in the Faroe Islands to establish the earliest date for the arrival of people in the watershed. Our results reveal an increase in fecal biomarker concentrations and the first appearance of sheep DNA at 500 CE (95% confidence interval 370-610 CE), pre-dating Norse settlements by 300 years. Sedimentary plant DNA indicates an increase in grasses and the disappearance of woody plants, likely due to livestock grazing. This provides unequivocal evidence for human arrival and livestock disturbance in the Faroe Islands centuries before Viking settlement in the 9th century.

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  6. Abstract

    Tropical hydroclimatic events, characterized by extreme regional rainfall anomalies, were a recurrent feature of marine isotope stages 2–4 and involved some of the most abrupt and dramatic climatic changes in the late Quaternary. These anomalies were pervasive throughout the tropics and resulted from the southward displacement of the Hadley circulation and the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and its associated convective rainfall, modulated by regional factors. Lake sediments, stalagmites, and offshore marine sediments that integrate inland continental conditions provide a comprehensive record of these changes over the past ∼70,000 yr. Vast areas experienced severe drought while other areas recorded greatly increased rainfall. Within the uncertainties of dating, these tropical rainfall anomalies occurred very close in time (±102–103 yr) to the deposition of North Atlantic ice‐rafted debris (IRD) that defines Heinrich events (HEs). The IRD record is a good proxy for the amount and distribution of additional freshwater forcing which was necessary to bring about a drastic reduction in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) strength during each HE. As a consequence of this reduction in AMOC and an abrupt expansion in the area of sea‐ice, cooling of the North Atlantic and adjacent continents took place, with a rapid atmospheric response involving the southward displacement of the ITCZ and associated rainfall belts. The climatic consequences of this large‐scale change in the Hadley circulation, modulated by regional factors, is clearly recorded throughout the tropics as a series of abrupt and extreme hydroclimatic events. Some of the physical mechanisms that may have played a role in those changes are discussed.

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  7. A widespread theory in paleoclimatology suggests that changes in freshwater discharge to the Nordic (Greenland, Norwegian, and Icelandic) Seas from ice sheets and proglacial lakes over North America played a role in triggering episodes of abrupt climate change during deglaciation (21–8 ka) by slowing the strength of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning circulation (AMOC). Yet, proving this link has been problematic, as climate models are unable to produce centennial-to-millennial–length reductions in overturning from short-lived outburst floods, while periods of iceberg discharge during Heinrich Event 1 (ca. 16 ka) may have occurred after the climate had already begun to cool. Here, results from a series of numerical model experiments are presented to show that prior to deglaciation, sea ice could have become tens of meters thick over large parts of the Arctic Basin, forming an enormous reservoir of freshwater independent from terrestrial sources. Our model then shows that deglacial sea-level rise, changes in atmospheric circulation, and terrestrial outburst floods caused this ice to be exported through Fram Strait, where its subsequent melt freshened the Nordic Seas enough to weaken the AMOC. Given that both the volume of ice stored in the Arctic Basin and the magnitude of the simulated export events exceed estimates of the volumes and fluxes of meltwater periodically discharged from proglacial Lake Agassiz, our results show that non-terrestrial freshwater sources played an important role in causing past abrupt climate change. 
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