Climate change in lowland central America during the late deglacial and early Holocene

Michael B. Hillesheim, David A. Hodell, Barbara W. Leyden, Mark Brenner, Jason H. Curtis, Flavio S. Anselmetti, Daniel Ariztegui, David G. Buck, Thomas P. Guilderson, Michael F. Rosenmeier, Douglas W. Schnurrenberger

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65 Scopus citations


The transition from arid glacial to moist early Holocene conditions represented a profound change in northern lowland Neotropical climate. Here we report a detailed record of changes in moisture availability during the latter part of this transition ( ∼ 11 250 to 7500 cal. yr BP) inferred from sediment cores retrieved in Lake Petén Itzá, northern Guatemala. Pollen assemblages demonstrate that a mesic forest had been largely established by ∼ 11 250 cal. yr BP, but sediment properties indicate that lake level was more than 35 m below modern stage. From 11 250 to 10 350 cal. yr BP, during the Preboreal period, lithologic changes in sediments from deep-water cores (>50m below modern water level) indicate several wet-dry cycles that suggest distinct changes in effective moisture. Four dry events (designated PBE1 -4) occurred centred at 11 200, 10 900, 10 700 and 10 400 cal. yr BP and correlate with similar variability observed in the Cariaco Basin titanium record and glacial meltwater pulses into the Gulf of Mexico. After 10 350 cal. yr BP, multiple sediment proxies suggest a shift to a more persistently moist early Holocene climate. Comparison of results from Lake Petén Itzá with other records from the circum-Caribbean demonstrates a coherent climate response during the entire span of our record. Furthermore, lowland Neotropical climate during the late deglacial and early Holocene period appears to be tightly linked to climate change in the high-latitude North Atlantic. We speculate that the observed changes in lowland Neotropical precipitation were related to the intensity of the annual cycle and associated displacements in the mean latitudinal position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone and Azores - Bermuda high-pressure system. This mechanism operated on millennial-to-submillennial timescales and may have responded to changes in solar radiation, glacial meltwater, North Atlantic sea ice, and the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (MOC).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)363-376
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Quaternary Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2005

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • 8.2-kyr event
  • Central America
  • Deglaciation
  • Geochemistry
  • Holocene
  • Intertropical Convergence Zone
  • Lake sediments
  • Neotropics
  • Palaeoclimate
  • Pollen
  • Preboreal
  • Stable isotopes


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