A 2000 year varve-based climate record from the central Brooks Range, Alaska

Broxton W. Bird, Mark B. Abbott, Bruce P. Finney, Barbara Kutchko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Varved minerogenic sediments from glacial-fed Blue Lake, northern Alaska, are used to investigate late Holocene climate variability. Varve-thickness measurements track summer temperature recorded at Atigun Pass, located 41 km east at a similar elevation (r 2 = 0.31, P = 0.08). Results indicate that climate in the Brooks Range from 10 to 730 AD (varve year) was warm with precipitation inferred to be higher than during the twentieth century. The varve-temperature relationship for this period was likely compromised and not used in our temperature reconstruction because the glacier was greatly reduced, or absent, exposing sub-glacial sediments to erosion from enhanced precipitation. Varve-inferred summer temperatures and precipitation decreased after 730 AD, averaging 0.4°C above the last millennial average (LMA = 4.2°C) from 730 to 850 AD, and 0.1°C above the LMA from 850 to 980 AD. Cooling culminated between 980 and 1030 AD with temperatures 0.7°C below the LMA. Varve-inferred summer temperatures increased between 1030 and 1620 AD to the LMA, though the period between 1260 and 1350 AD was 0.2°C below the LMA. Although there is no equivalent to the European Medieval Warm Period in the Blue Lake record, two warm intervals occurred from 1350 to 1450 AD and 1500 to 1620 AD (0.4 and 0.3°C above the LMA, respectively). During the Little Ice Age (LIA; 1620 to 1880 AD), inferred summer temperature averaged 0.2°C below the LMA. After 1880 AD, inferred summer temperature increased to 0.8°C above the LMA, glaciers retreated, but aridity persisted based on a number of regional paleoclimate records. Despite warming and glacial retreat, varve thicknesses have not achieved pre-730 AD levels. This reflects limited sediment availability and transport due to a less extensive retreat compared to the first millennium, and continued relative aridity. Overall, the Blue Lake record is similar to varve records from the eastern Canadian Arctic that document a cool LIA and twentieth century warming. However, the occurrence and timing of events, such as the LIA and Medieval Warm Period, varies considerably among records, suggesting heterogeneous climatic patterns across the North American Arctic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-41
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This research was funded by the National Science Foundation as part of the ARCSS 2 kyr project, award #ARC0454941. We extend special thanks to Erik Rapoport Esq., Toby Schwoerer, Dan Nelson, and Byron Steinman for their invaluable assistance in the field. We also acknowledge the staff of the Limnological Research Center at the University of Minnesota for their assistance with core processing and imaging. Finally, we thank the three anonymous reviewers and Darrell Kaufman for their comments, which greatly strengthened the quality of the manuscript.

Copyright 2009 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Arctic
  • Brooks Range
  • Late Holocene climate change
  • Little Ice Age
  • Varves

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • AK


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