Late Quaternary paleoclimate of western Alaska inferred from fossil chironomids and its relation to vegetation histories

Joshua Kurek, Les C. Cwynar, Thomas A. Ager, Mark B. Abbott, Mary E. Edwards

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61 Scopus citations


Fossil Chironomidae assemblages (with a few Chaoboridae and Ceratopogonidae) from Zagoskin and Burial Lakes in western Alaska provide quantitative reconstructions of mean July air temperatures for periods of the late-middle Wisconsin (∼39,000-34,000 cal yr B.P.) to the present. Inferred temperatures are compared with previously analyzed pollen data from each site summarized here by indirect ordination. Paleotemperature trends reveal substantial differences in the timing of climatic warming following the late Wisconsin at each site, although chronological uncertainty exists. Zagoskin Lake shows early warming beginning at about 21,000 cal yr B.P., whereas warming at Burial Lake begins ∼4000 years later. Summer climates during the last glacial maximum (LGM) were on average ∼3.5 °C below the modern temperatures at each site. Major shifts in vegetation occurred from ∼19,000 to 10,000 cal yr B.P. at Zagoskin Lake and from ∼17,000 to 10,000 cal yr B.P. at Burial Lake. Vegetation shifts followed climatic warming, when temperatures neared modern values. Both sites provide evidence of an early postglacial thermal maximum at ∼12,300 cal yr B.P. These chironomid records, combined with other insect-based climatic reconstructions from Beringia, indicate that during the LGM: (1) greater continentality likely influenced regions adjacent to the Bering Land Bridge and (2) summer climates were, at times, not dominated by severe cold.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)799-811
Number of pages13
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number9-10
StatePublished - May 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), collaborative research opportunity on “Late Pleistocene paleoclimates of eastern Beringia” awarded to L.C. Cwynar, K. Gajewski, R. Pienitz, and I.R. Walker, and by a National Science Foundation-Earth System History grant to M. Abbott, E. Cobabe, B. Finney, and M. Edwards. Additional scholarly support was provided by NSERC PGS B to J. Kurek. Scott Elias and an anonymous reviewer provided comments and suggestions that improved this manuscript.

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


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