The role of the hydrological cycle during abrupt temperature changes is of prime importance for the actual impact of climate change on the continents. In a new study published in Nature Geoscience online (January 19, 2014) scientists from the University of Potsdam, Germany and the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences show that during the abrupt cooling at the onset of the so-called Younger Dryas period 12680 years ago changes in the water cycle were the main drivers of widespread environmental change in western Europe. The team of scientists analyzed organic remains extracted from Meerfelder maar lake sediments from the Eifel region, western Germany, to reconstruct changes in precipitation patterns in unprecedented detail. They were able to show that the intrusion of dry polar air into western Europe lead to the collapse of local ecosystems and resulted in the observed widespread environmental changes at that time.
Organic remains of plants from lake sediments as molecular rain gauges
The exact sequence of events during abrupt climate changes occurring over only a few years is one of the great unknowns in paleoclimate research. The new results presented here were obtained by using a novel method, where molecular organic remains derived from plant fossils were extracted from precisely dated annually laminated lake sediments. The ratio of the heavy Deuterium to the light Hydrogen isotopes in these biomarkers can be used to reconstruct changes in precipitation regime and moisture sources with unprecedented detail.
The Younger Dryas period was the last major cold period at the end of the last glaciation with a duration of about 1100 years, when an abrupt change in the pathway of westerly wind systems over Europe lead to massive environmental change within a few years, as GFZ scientists showed in an earlier study. Dirk Sachse, the head of the workgroup at the Institute of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the Potsdam Univer
GFZ GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam, Helmholtz Centre