Highly connected Greenland and central European climate, 30,000-60,000 years ago

A new paper has been published today in Geology by the Northeast Greenland Caves Project leader Dr. Gina Moseley and science partner Prof. Christoph Spötl, which shows that in the cold, glacial climate c. 30,000 to 60,000 years ago, strong teleconnections existed between Greenland and central Europe. The paper is permanently open access and available to all.

For the past three years, Gina has been working on the NALPS (Northern Alps) project with the intention of reconstructing a climate change record for a period known as Marine Isotope Stage 3, which took place c. 30,000-60,000 years ago. During this time the Earth was firmly within a cold glacial period (ice age), despite this, very abrupt and rapid changes in climate took place. Further knowledge about these rapid climate changes is important for our understanding of how fast the climate is capable of changing, and may have serious implications for our future.

These rapid changes in climate were first identified in Greenland ice cores in 1992 and are known as Dansgaard-Oeschger (D-O) cycles after the researchers that discovered them. The D-O cycles are characterised by very quick rises in temperature (in some cases up to 16 ‘C), followed by gradual cooling, giving rise to a saw-tooth type pattern of events. Since the initial discovery, D-O cycles have been recognised in both hemispheres, and in various types of climate archive including lake deposits, marine deposits, and cave deposits, demonstrating that these rapid changes in climate are a global phenomenon. Unfortunately, despite the increasing quantity of records showing D-O cycles, there remains a scarcity of precisely dated, high-resolution records from which we can learn about the onset, duration and sequence of these changes.

Sites located on the northern rim of the European Alps predominantly receive moisture from the same North Atlantic source as Greenland. We were thus hopeful that cave deposits from the Northern Alps would yield a reliable, precisely-dated climate record for a land-based site in central Europe that would complement the Greenland ice core record.  We were not disappointed. Our record, which is  built up from 4 stalagmites, and contains 59 precise ages, and 4875 oxygen measurements, showed that the climate of central Europe was as responsive and as fast to change as Greenland over the studied period.

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