Holocene moisture evolution in arid central Asia and its out-of-phase relationship with Asian monsoon history

Fahu Chen, Zicheng Yu, Meilin Yang, Emi Ito, Sumin Wang, David B. Madsen, Xiaozhong Huang, Yan Zhao, Tomonori Sato, H. John, Ian Boomer, Jianhui Chen, Chengbang An, Bernd Wünnemann

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834 Scopus citations


We synthesize palaeoclimate records from the mid-latitude arid Asian region dominated today by the Westerlies ("arid central Asia" (ACA)) to evaluate spatial and temporal patterns of moisture changes during the Holocene. Sediment records from 11 lakes with reliable chronologies and robust proxies were selected to reconstruct moisture histories based on a five-class ordinal wetness index with assigned scores from the driest to wettest periods at individual sites for 200-year time slices. The proxies used in these records include pollen and diatom assemblages, sediment lithology, lake levels, and geochemistry (mainly isotope) data. The results of our synthesis show that ACA as a whole experienced synchronous and coherent moisture changes during the Holocene, namely a dry early Holocene, a wetter (less dry) early to mid-Holocene, and a moderately wet late Holocene. During the early Holocene most of the lakes experienced very low water levels and even dried out before ca 8 ka (1 ka=1000 cal a BP). Hence the effective-moisture history in ACA is out-of-phase with that in monsoonal Asia as documented by numerous palaeoclimate records. In monsoonal Asia, a strong summer monsoon and humid climate characterized the early Holocene, and a weakened summer monsoon and drier climate prevailed during the late Holocene, which were mainly controlled by changes in low-latitude summer insolation. In contrast, we propose that the pattern of Holocene effective-moisture evolution in the westerly dominated ACA was mainly determined by North Atlantic sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) and high-latitude air temperatures that affect the availability, amount and transport of water vapor. Also, topography of the Tibetan Plateau and adjacent Asian highlands could have contributed to the intensification of dry climate in ACA during the early Holocene, as a result of strengthening the subsidence of dry air masses, associated with stronger uplift motion on the plateau by intense heating under a stronger summer insolation. Summer insolation might have played a key role in directly controlling moisture conditions in ACA but only after the northern hemisphere ice-sheets had disappeared in the mid- and late Holocene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-364
Number of pages14
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Feb 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This synthesis results from discussions at the INQUA RACHAD 2006 Workshop held on 25–27 July 2006 in Lanzhou, China. We thank Zhaodong Feng (Lanzhou University, China), Hilary Birks (University of Bergen, Norway), Georg Schettler (Geoforschungszentrum Potsdam, Germany), Xunlin Yang (Lanzhou University, China) and other workshop participants for their valuable contributions and discussion. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions. This research was supported by Chinese NSF Grants (#90502008 and #40421101). The RACHAD Workshop was partly supported by the 111 Program (#B06026) of Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology. Yu and Ito were partially supported by US National Science Foundation for their work in northwest China.


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