Proglacial lake sediment records reveal Holocene climate changes in the Venezuelan Andes

Nathan D. Stansell, Pratigya J. Polissar, Mark B. Abbott, Maximiliano Bezada, Byron A. Steinman, Carsten Braun

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Lake sediment records from the Cordillera de Mérida in the northern Venezuelan Andes document the history of local glacial variability and climate changes during the Holocene (~12ka to the present). The valleys that contain these lakes have similar bedrock compositions and hypsometries, but have different headwall elevations and aspects, which makes them useful for investigating the magnitude of past glaciations. There was widespread glacial retreat in the Venezuelan Andes during the early Holocene, after which most watersheds remained ice free, and thus far only valleys with headwalls higher than ~4400masl contain evidence of glaciation during the last ~10ka. There was a pronounced shift in sediment composition for the Montos (headwall: ~4750masl) and Los Anteojos (headwall: ~4400masl) records during the middle Holocene from ~8.0 to 7.7ka when conditions appear to have become ice free and drier. There is tentative evidence that the glacier in the Mucubají valley (headwall: ~4609masl) advanced from ~8.1 to 6.6ka and then retreated during the latter stages of the middle Holocene. Clastic sediment accumulation in other nearby lake basins was either low or decreased throughout most of the middle Holocene as watersheds stabilized under warmer and/or drier conditions. In the Montos record, there was another major shift in sediment composition that occurred from ~6.5 to 5.7ka, similar to other regional records that suggest conditions were drier during this period. Overall, the late Holocene was a period of warmer and wetter conditions with ice extent at a minimum in the northern tropical Andes. There were also punctuated decadal to multi-centennial periods of higher clastic sediment accumulation during the last ~4ka, likely in response to periods of cooling and/or local precipitation changes. In watersheds with headwalls above 4600masl, there is evidence of glacial advances during the Little Ice Age (~0.6-0.1ka). The pattern of glacial variability is generally similar in both the northern and southern tropics during the Little Ice Age, suggesting that ice margins in both regions were responding to colder and wetter conditions during the latest Holocene. The observed pattern of Holocene climate variability in the Venezuelan Andes cannot be explained by insolation forcing alone, and tropical ocean influences were likely associated with the observed glacial and lake level changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)44-55
Number of pages12
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - Apr 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Dorfe Diaz, Jaime Escobar, Matthew Finkenbinder, Bryan Friedrichs, Bryan Mark and David Pompeani for their assistance. This project was supported by the National Science Foundation , Paleo-Perspectives on Climate Change program ( EAR-1003780 ), Earth System History program ( ATM-9809472 ), and Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences Postdoctoral Research program ( AGS-1137750 ). Additional funding was provided by the Ohio State University Climate Water and Carbon Program , the University of Pittsburgh Center for Latin American Studies , the Geological Society of America , and the Department of Geology and Planetary Science at the University of Pittsburgh .


  • Clastic sediment flux
  • Little Ice Age
  • Middle Holocene
  • Northern tropics
  • Paleoclimate


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