Skip to main content

Centennial to millennial hydroclimatic fluctuations in the humid northeast United States during the Holocene

  • Bryan N. Shuman (a1) and Sara A. Burrell (a1)

Paleoclimate records indicate that the hydroclimate of the northeast United States changed continuously during the Holocene, but the signals of multi-century variations have been difficult to distinguish from local effects and noise. Systematic replication of the signals can help diagnose the patterns of change. Here, we use ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and sediment core analyses to extend and compare the regional network of lake-level records. We reconstruct the histories of two lakes in northeast Pennsylvania, which show that multi-century hydrologic changes observed in coastal New England extended to the Susquehanna River watershed. Correlations with isotopic and marine temperature records (r>0.65) indicate that high temperatures coincided with low water at 4.9–3.8 and 2.8–2.0 ka. Widely recognized Holocene events at ca. 4.2 and 2.7 ka, therefore, may have shared similar ocean-atmosphere dynamics in this region. Low water levels in Pennsylvania from ca. 5.5–4.9 ka, however, demonstrate that other multi-century changes had different patterns. At ca. 5.5 ka, anti-phased inland and coastal hydrologic changes followed a sharp temperature decline and produced drought possibly as far inland as the Great Lakes. The long-term increase in water levels since then underscores that current pluvial conditions in the region probably lack a Holocene precedent.

Corresponding author
*Corresponding author at: University of Wyoming, Department of Geology and Geophysics, 1000 E. University Ave., Laramie, Wyoming 82071, USA. E-mail address:
Hide All
Baker, R.G., Maher, L.J. Jr, Chumbley, C.A., Van Zant, K.L., 1992. Patterns of Holocene environmental change in the Midwestern United States. Quaternary Research 37, 379389.
Berg, T.M., Edmunds, W.E., Geyer, A.R., Glover, A.D., Hoskins, D.M., MacLachlan, D.B., Root, S.I., Sevon, W.D., Socolow, A.A., compilers, 1980. Geologic map of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvannia Geological Survey, Fourth Series, Map 1. 1:250,000. 2nd ed. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey, Harrisburg.
Berger, A., Loutre, M.F., 1991. Insolation values for the climate of the last 10 million years. Quaternary Science Reviews 10, 297.
Booth, R.K., Brewer, S., Blaauw, M., Minckley, T.A., Jackson, S.T., 2012. Decomposing the mid-Holocene Tsuga decline in eastern North America. Ecology 93, 18411852.
Booth, R.K., Jackson, S.T., Forman, S.L., Kutzbach, J.E., Bettis, E.A., Kreig, J., Wright, D.K., 2005. A severe centennial-scale drought in midcontinental North America 4200 years ago and apparent global linkages. Holocene 15, 321.
Brantley, S.L., Lebedeva, M.I., Balashov, V.N., Singha, K., Sullivan, P.L., Stinchcomb, G., 2016. Toward a conceptual model relating chemical reaction fronts to water flow paths in hills. Geomorphology 277, 100117.
Dean, W.E., 1974. Determination of carbonate and organic matter in calcareous sediments and sedimentary rocks by loss on ignition: comparison with other methods. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology 44, 242248.
deMenocal, P., Ortiz, J., Guilderson, T., Sarnthein, M., 2000. Coherent high- and low-latitude climate variability during the Holocene warm period. Science 288, 21982202.
Digerfeldt, G., 1986. Studies on Past Lake-Level Fluctuations. In: Berglund, B.E. (Ed.), Handbook of Holocene Palaeoecology and Palaeohydrology. John Wiley and Sons, New York, pp. 127143.
Goring, S., Williams, J.W., Blois, J.L., Jackson, S.T., Paciorek, C.J., Booth, R.K., Marlon, J.R., Blaauw, M., Christen, J.A., 2012. Deposition times in the northeastern United States during the Holocene: establishing valid priors for Bayesian age models. Quaternary Science Reviews 48, 5460.
Grimm, E.C., Maher, L.J. Jr, Nelson, D.M., 2009. The magnitude of error in conventional bulk-sediment radiocarbon dates from central North America. Quaternary Research 72, 301308.
Harrison, S.P., Bartlein, P.J., Brewer, S., Prentice, I.C., Boyd, M., Hessler, I., Holmgren, K., Izumi, K., Willis, K., 2014. Climate model benchmarking with glacial and mid-Holocene climates. Climate Dynamics 43, 671688.
Haslett, J., Parnell, A., 2008. A simple monotone process with application to radiocarbon-dated depth chronologies. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series C (Applied Statistics) 57, 399418.
Hubeny, J.B., McCarthy, F.M.G., Lewis, J., Drljepan, M., Morissette, C., King, J.W., Cantwell, M., Hudson, N.M., Crispo, M.L., 2015. The paleohydrology of Sluice Pond, NE Massachusetts, and its regional significance. Journal of Paleolimnology 53, 271287.
Jongma, J.I., Prange, M., Renssen, H., Schulz, M., 2007. Amplification of Holocene multicentennial climate forcing by mode transitions in North Atlantic overturning circulation. Geophysical Research Letters 34, L15706.
Kirby, M.E., Mullins, H.T., Patterson, W.P., Burnett, A.W., 2002. Late glacial-Holocene atmospheric circulation and precipitation in the northeast United States inferred from modern calibrated stable oxygen and carbon isotopes. Geological Society of America Bulletin 114, 13261340.
Li, Y.-X., Yu, Z., Kodama, K.P., 2007. Sensitive moisture response to Holocene millennial-scale climate variations in the Mid-Atlantic region, USA. The Holocene 17, 38.
Marsicek, J.P., Shuman, B., Brewer, S., Foster, D.R., Oswald, W.W., 2013. Moisture and temperature changes associated with the mid-Holocene Tsuga decline in the northeastern United States. Quaternary Science Reviews 80, 129142.
Martin-Puertas, C., Matthes, K., Brauer, A., Muscheler, R., Hansen, F., Petrick, C., Aldahan, A., Possnert, G., van Geel, B., 2012. Regional atmospheric circulation shifts induced by a grand solar minimum. Nature Geoscience 5, 397401.
Mayewski, P.A., Rohling, E., Stager, C., Karlen, K., Maasch, K., Meeker, L.D., Meyerson, E., et al., 2004. Holocene climate variability. Quaternary Research 62, 243.
McGee, D., deMenocal, P.B., Winckler, G., Stuut, J.B.W., Bradtmiller, L.I., 2013. The magnitude, timing and abruptness of changes in North African dust deposition over the last 20,000 yr. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 371–372, 163176.
Munoz, S.E., Gruley, K.E., Massie, A., Fike, D.A., Schroeder, S., Williams, J.W., 2015. Cahokia’s emergence and decline coincided with shifts of flood frequency on the Mississippi River. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112, 63196324.
Nelson, D.M., Hu, F.S., Grimm, E.C., Curry, B.B., Slate, J.E., 2006. The influence of aridity and fire on Holocene prairie communities in the eastern Prairie Peninsula. Ecology 87, 25232536.
Newby, P., Shuman, B., Donnelly, J.P., Karnauskas, K.B., Marsicek, J.P., 2014. Centennial-to-millennial hydrologic trends and variability along the north Atlantic coast, U.S.A., during the Holocene. Geophysical Research Letters 41, 43004307.
Newby, P.E., Shuman, B.N., Donnelly, J.P., MacDonald, D., 2011. Repeated century-scale droughts over the past 13,000 yrs near the Hudson River watershed, USA. Quaternary Research 75, 523530.
Oppo, D.W., McManus, J.F., Cullen, J.L., 2003. Palaeo-oceanography: deepwater variability in the Holocene epoch. Nature 422, 277277.
Pederson, N., Bell, A.R., Cook, E.R., Lall, U., Devineni, N., Seager, R., Eggleston, K., Vranes, K.P., 2013. Is an Epic Pluvial Masking the Water Insecurity of the Greater New York City Region? Journal of Climate 26, 13391354.
Pinheiro, J.C., Bates, D.M., 2000. Mixed-Effects Models in S and S-PLUS. Springer Verlag, New York.
Pribyl, P., Shuman, B.N., 2014. A computational approach to Quaternary lake-level reconstruction applied in the central Rocky Mountains, Wyoming, USA. Quaternary Research 82, 249259.
R Core Development Team, 2009. R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria.
Reimer, P.J., Bard, E., Bayliss, A., Beck, J.W., Blackwell, P.G., Bronk Ramsey, C., Buck, C.E., et al., 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 Radiocarbon Age Calibration Curves 0–50,000 Years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55, 18691887.
Renssen, H., Goosse, H., Muscheler, R., 2006. Coupled climate model simulation of Holocene cooling events: oceanic feedback amplifies solar forcing. Climate of the Past 2, 7990.
Roland, T.P., Caseldine, C.J., Charman, D.J., Turney, C.S.M., Amesbury, M.J., 2014. Was there a “4.2 ka event” in Great Britain and Ireland? Evidence from the peatland record. Quaternary Science Reviews 83, 1127.
Rowan, D.J., Kalff, J., Rasmussen, J.B., 1992. Estimating the mud deposition boundary depth in lake from wave theory. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 49, 24902497.
Sachs, J.P., 2007. Cooling of Northwest Atlantic slope waters during the Holocene. Geophysical Research Letters 34, L03609.
Saltzman, B., 1982. Stochastically-driven climatic fluctuations in the sea-ice, ocean temperature, CO2 feedback system. Tellus 34, 97112.
Seager, R., Pederson, N., Kushnir, Y., Nakamura, J., Jurburg, S., 2012. The 1960s drought and the subsequent shift to a wetter climate in the Catskill Mountains region of the New York City watershed. Journal of Climate 25, 67216742.
Sevon, W.D., Braun, D.D., 1997. Glacial Deposits of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Geological Society, Fourth Series, Map 59. 1:2,000,000. 2nd Ed. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey, Harrisburg.
Shuman, B., 2003. Controls on loss-on-ignition variation in cores from two shallow lakes in the northeastern United States. Journal of Paleolimnology 30, 371385.
Shuman, B., Bartlein, P., Logar, N., Newby, P., Webb, T., 2002. Parallel climate and vegetation responses to the early-Holocene collapse of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. Quaternary Science Reviews 21, 17931805.
Shuman, B.N., Marsicek, J.P., 2016. The structure of Holocene climate change in mid-latitude North America. Quaternary Science Reviews 141, 3851.
Shuman, B.N., Newby, P., Huang, Y., Webb, T., 2004. Evidence for the close climatic control of New England vegetation history. Ecology 85, 12971310.
Shuman, B.N., Pribyl, P., Buettner, J., 2015. Hydrologic changes in Colorado during the mid-Holocene and Younger Dryas. Quaternary Research 84, 187199.
Shuman, B., Pribyl, P., Minckley, T.A., Shinker, J.J., 2010. Rapid hydrologic shifts and prolonged droughts in Rocky Mountain headwaters during the Holocene. Geophysical Research Lettetrs 37, L06701.
Thornalley, D.J.R., Elderfield, H., McCave, I.N., 2009. Holocene oscillations in temperature and salinity of the surface subpolar North Atlantic. Nature 457, 711714.
van Geel, B., Heusser, C.J., Renssen, H., Schuurmans, C.J.E., 2000. Climatic change in Chile at around 2700 BP and global evidence for solar forcing: a hypothesis. The Holocene 10, 659664.
Wang, Y., Gill, J.L., Marsicek, J., Dierking, A., Shuman, B., Williams, J.W., 2016. Pronounced variations in Fagus grandifolia abundances in the Great Lakes region during the Holocene. The Holocene 4, 578–591.
Wanner, H., Solomina, O., Grosjean, M., Ritz, S.P., Jetel, M., 2011. Structure and origin of Holocene cold events. Quaternary Science Reviews 30, 31093123.
Webb, R.S., Anderson, K.H., Webb, T., 1993. Pollen Response-Surface Estimates of Late-Quaternary Changes in the Moisture Balance of the Northeastern United States. Quaternary Research 40, 213227.
Webb, T., Anderson, K.H., Webb, R.S., Bartlein, P.J., 1998. Late Quaternary climate changes in eastern North America: a comparison of pollen-derived estimates with climate model results. Quaternary Science Reviews 17, 587.
Willard, D.A., Bernhardt, C.E., Korejwo, D.A., Meyers, S.R., 2005. Impact of millennial-scale Holocene climate variability on eastern North American terrestrial ecosystems: pollen-based climatic reconstruction. Global and Planetary Change 47, 1735.
Zhao, C., Yu, Z., Ito, E., Zhao, Y., 2010. Holocene climate trend, variability, and shift documented by lacustrine stable-isotope record in the northeastern United States. Quaternary Science Reviews, Special Theme: Arctic Palaeoclimate Synthesis 29, 18311843.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Quaternary Research
  • ISSN: 0033-5894
  • EISSN: 1096-0287
  • URL: /core/journals/quaternary-research
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed