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Abrupt and moderate climate changes in the mid-latitudes of Asia during the Holocene


A multiple parameter dating technique was used to establish a depth/age scale for a 171.3 m (145.87 m w.e.) surface to bedrock ice core (Bl2003) recovered from the cold recrystallization accumulation zone of the Western Belukha Plateau (4115 m a.s.l.) in the Siberian Altai Mountains. The ice-core record presented visible layering of annual accumulation and of δ 18O/δD stable isotopes, and a clear tritium reference horizon. A steady-state glacier flow model for layer thinning was calibrated and applied to establish a depth/age scale. Four radiocarbon (14C) measurements of particulate organic carbon contained in ice-core samples revealed dates for the bottom part of Bl2003 from 9075 ± 1221 cal a BC at 145.2 ± 0.1 m w.e. (0.665 m w.e. from the bedrock) to 790 ± 93 AD at 121.1 m w.e. depth. Sulfate peaks coincident with volcanic eruptions, the Tunguska meteorite event, and the 1842 dust storm were used to verify dating. Analysis of the Bl2003 ice core reveals that the modern Altai glaciers were formed during the Younger Dryas (YD) (~10 950 to ~7500 cal a BC), and that they survived the Holocene Climate Optimum (HCO) (~6500 to ~3600 cal a BC) and the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) (~640 to ~1100 AD). A decrease in air temperature at the beginning and an abrupt increase at the end of the YD were identified. Intensification of winds and dust loading related to Asian desert expansion also characterized the YD. During the YD major ion concentrations increased significantly, up to 50 times for Na+ (background), up to 45 times for Ca2+ and Mg2+, and up to 20 times for SO4 2− relative to the recent warm period from 1993 to 2003. A warm period lasted for about three centuries following the YD signaling onset of the HCO. A significant and prolonged decrease in air temperature from ~2000 to ~600 cal a BC was associated with a severe centennial drought (SCD). A sharp increase in air temperatures after the SCD was coincident with the MWP. After the MWP a cooling was followed gradually with further onset of the Little Ice Age. During the modern warm period (1973–2003) an increase in air temperature is noted, which nearly reaches the average of HCO and MWP air temperature values.

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Correspondence: Elena M. Aizen <>
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