Chinese stalagmite paleoclimate researches: A review and perspective

Hai Cheng, Haiwei Zhang, Jingyao Zhao, Hanying Li, Youfeng Ning, Gayatri Kathayat

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Stalagmite is one kind of secondary carbonates formed in limestone caves (speleothem). After cave water droplets containing Ca2+ and HCO3− drip onto floor, carbonate in the water might become supersaturated due to CO2 degassing under certain conditions, resulting in the formation of stalagmite in a process year after year. Stalagmite is one of important geological archives for paleoclimate research. The advantages include wide spatial distribution, suitable for U-Th and U-Pb dating, enriched in climate proxies, continuity, long time span, comparability and lower sampling cost etc. These factors have propelled stalagmite paleoclimate research to the forefront of global paleoclimatology with an irreplaceable role. The stalagmite paleoclimate study started in the western countries, mainly in Europe and America in 1960s–1970s, while the relevant research in China was progressively developed in the 1980s–1990s after the Reform and Opening up. Although there was a huge gap between the overall research level in China and western countries, a solid research foundation, as well as a number of talent teams were established during the period. In the 21st century, starting from the publication of stalagmite records from Hulu Cave in Nanjing in 2001, the stalagmite paleoclimate research in China has ushered in a flourishing development and a real leap on the basis of international cooperation, resulting in significant international impacts. The landmark achievements, including establishment of the world’s longest (640000 years) East Asian monsoon stalagmite record, as well as the longest Indian monsoon (280000 years), South American monsoon (250000 years), North American westerly climate (330000 years), Central Asian westerly climate (135000 years), and northwestern China westerly climate (500000 years), have laid a milestone in the paleoclimate study in these climate domains. Importantly, these stalagmite records have revealed the relationship of Asian monsoon variations with solar insolation climate change in polar regions, and the South American monsoon changes on orbital-suborbital timescales, which have provided new geological observations for the development of orbital-suborbital climate theory; elaborated coupling and differentiation relationships between the Asian monsoon and the westerly climate; reconstructed the history of Asian monsoon changes in the Holocene in detail, and thus the hydrological and climate variances behind Chinese and Indian civilization-cultural evolutions. Furthermore, a large number of high-resolution stalagmite records over the past 2000 years have been reconstructed, which are important for understanding short-term climate variability and magnitude, events, cycles, and thus the future climate projection. The achievements have also involved the improvements of a number of important techniques, such as U-Th dating method, the establishments of various hydroclimatic proxies, as well as the contributions to the reconstruction of the atmosphere 14C variation history over the past ∼54000 years. On the perspective of the future, the Chinese stalagmite community should continue to develop key techniques, further clarify the hydroclimatic significance of stalagmite proxies, impel the integration of related disciplines, and concentrate on key scientific issues in global climate change and major social demands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1489-1513
Number of pages25
JournalScience China Earth Sciences
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thanks to the help and many constructive revisions to the first draft of the paper from Ming Tan, Yongjin Wang, Chaoyong Hu, Yanjun Cai and Liangcheng Tan. This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41888101 & 41731174).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Science China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.


  • Asian monsoon
  • Cave stalagmites
  • Global climate change
  • Oxygen isotope
  • Westerly


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