Nav: Home

University of Pittsburgh geologists map prehistoric climate changes in Canada's Yukon Territory

May 08, 2012

PITTSBURGH--Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have joined an international group of scientists to study past climate changes in the Arctic. Comprising geologists from Pitt's Department of Geology and Planetary Science, the team has analyzed sedimentary and geochemical records of water-level changes in Rantin Lake, located in the boreal forest of Canada's southeastern Yukon Territory. The results were published online in the April issue of Journal of Paleolimnology as one of 18 articles dedicated to reconstructing Arctic lake sediments climate and environmental changes during the Holocene (about 12,000 years before present day).

"During the last 10,000 years, there have been certain times in which rapid climate change events occurred," said David Pompeani, lead author and a Pitt PhD geology student. "By analyzing Rantin Lake, we've contributed a piece of the puzzle toward mapping the timing and magnitude of these prehistoric events throughout the Arctic."

Rantin Lake is part of a watershed containing a series of small lakes hydrologically connected through groundwater flow. The regional climate is subarctic and characterized by warm, wet summers and dry, cold winters. The lake is located at 60 degrees north in the Canadian Arctic, only 30 degrees away from the North Pole, where climate change is expected to be amplified.

In July 2006, the Pitt team--including Mark Abbott, associate professor of geology and planetary science, and Byron Steinman, a former PhD geology student (now a postdoctoral researcher at Penn State University)--collected two sediment cores from the lake for analysis. The sediment cores were split and analyzed for paleoclimate proxy indicators, including geochemical composition, sedimentary structure, and macrofossil content (that which is visible without a microscope). The amount of water in a lake is directly related to its depth. Therefore, a loss in water during droughts is recorded by drop in lake levels, whereas wet periods are characterized by deep waters.

Using these proxy indicators, the researchers were able to make inferences about past variations in the balance between precipitation and evaporation in the southern Yukon. A comparison of the lake-level proxies with a previously developed fossil pollen record from the same lake found that rapid vegetation changes over the Holocene also occurred during shifts in the precipitation/evaporation balance, suggesting hydrologic conditions played an integral role in the evolution of the Yukon's ecosystem. The development of unique shallow-water sediment at the deep-water core site indicated that lake levels dropped significantly during a "megadrought" in the early Holocene.

"About 8,400 years ago, the lake almost dried out," said Pompeani. "We documented the timing of this drought and studied its transition to conditions more typical of what we observed in the late Holocene."

Pitt's study, says Pompeani, contributes to the long-term perspective on natural climate variability that is needed to understand historically unprecedented changes now occurring in the Arctic. Rapid changes in the Arctic climate system that occurred in the relatively recent past can be compared with climate models to improve the understanding of the processes responsible for such nonlinear changes.

-end-

Funding for this project was provided by the National Science Foundation.

The Holocene climate project focuses on climate records from the last 8,000 years, including two focus regions: eastern Beringia and the northwest Atlantic. For more information on the Holocene climate project, visit www.arcus.org/synthesis8k/index.php.

University of Pittsburgh
The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Best Science Podcasts 2017

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2017. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.

Now Playing: Radiolab

Truth Trolls
Today, a third story of folks relentlessly searching for the truth. But this time, the truth seekers are an unlikely bunch... internet trolls.


Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking School
For most of modern history, humans have placed smaller humans in institutions called schools. But what parts of this model still work? And what must change? This hour, TED speakers rethink education.TED speakers include teacher Tyler DeWitt, social entrepreneur Sal Khan, international education expert Andreas Schleicher, and educator Linda Cliatt-Wayman.