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Evidence of past Southern hemisphere rainfall cycles related to Antarctic temperatures
Date:1/17/2012

AMHERST, Mass. Geoscientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Minnesota this week published the first evidence that warm-cold climate oscillations well known in the Northern Hemisphere over the most recent glacial period also appear as tropical rainfall variations in the Amazon Basin of South America. It is the first clear expression of these cycles in the Southern Hemisphere.

The work by Stephen Burns and his doctoral student Lisa Kanner at UMass Amherst is reported in the current issue of ScienceXpress. Burns says, "The study also demonstrates that rainfall in the Southern Hemisphere of South America is, though to a lesser extent, also influenced by temperature changes in the Antarctic, which has not been previously observed."

The last glacial period, from about 10,000 to about 120,000 years ago, saw North America and Western Europe covered in a thick continental ice sheet, the geoscientist points out. Yet climate was also highly unstable during the period, cycling every few thousand years between warm and cold, dry periods in the high northern latitudes. Temperatures could change by as much as 10 to 15 degrees Celsius.

Known as Dansgaard/Oeschger (D/O) cycles, these millennial-scale rapid climate events were first recognized in the Greenland ice cores, but have since been found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, Burns points out.

The UMass Amherst climate researcher is an expert in reading past climate data from the ratio of oxygen isotopes found in calcite in speleothems, another name for stalagmites, stalactites and other water-deposited cave features. Analyzing radioactive isotopes and stable oxygen isotopes in the calcite sampled from ancient cave formations can provide information on past rainfall over many thousands of years, Burns says.

He and Kanner used oxygen isotopic analyses from a 16-centimeter (about 6.3 inches) stalagmite recovered from a cave 2.4 mi
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Contact: Janet Lathrop
jlathrop@admin.umass.edu
413-545-0444
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Source:Eurekalert  

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Evidence of past Southern hemisphere rainfall cycles related to Antarctic temperatures
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