Summer temperatures during the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age inferred from varved proglacial lake sediments in southern Alaska

Michael G. Loso

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50 Scopus citations


For the heavily glaciated mountains of southern Alaska, few high-resolution, millennial-scale proxy temperature reconstructions are available for comparison with modern temperatures or with the history of glacier fluctuations. Recent catastrophic drainage of glacier-dammed Iceberg Lake, on the northern margin of the Bagley Icefield, exposed subaerial outcrops of varved lacustrine sediments that span the period 442-1998 AD. Here, an updated chronology of varve thickness measurements is used to quantitatively reconstruct melt-season temperature anomalies. From 1958 to 1998, varve thickness has a positive and marginally significant correlation with May-June temperatures at the nearest coastal measurement stations. Varve sensitivity to temperature has changed over time, however, in response to lake level changes in 1957 and earlier. I compensate for this by log-transforming the varve thickness chronology, and also by using a 400-year-long tree-ring-based temperature proxy to reconstruct melt-season temperatures at Iceberg Lake. Regression against this longer proxy record is statistically weak, but spans the full range of occupied lake levels and varve sensitivities. Reconstructed temperature anomalies have broad confidence intervals, but nominally span 1.1°C over the last 1500+ years. Maximum temperatures occurred in the late twentieth century, with a minimum in the late sixth century. The Little Ice Age is present as three cool periods between 1350 and 1850 AD with maximum cooling around 1650 AD. A Medieval Warm Period is evident from 1000 to 1100 AD, but the temperature reconstruction suggests it was less warm than recent decades-an observation supported by independent geological evidence of recent glacier retreat that is unprecedented over the period of record.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-128
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments Robert S. Anderson, Daniel F. Doak, and Suzanne P. Anderson guided my original work on this project, which was supported by an NSF SGER grant (EAR-00113400). This manuscript benefited from discussions with Darrell Kaufman, Feng Sheng Hu, Willis Eschenbach, and Nick McKay. Special thanks to the many friends who contributed their hands and good humor to the fieldwork. This article is dedicated to the memory of Ed LaChapelle, a scientific mentor, generous neighbor, and dear friend.

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


  • Alaska
  • Glacial lake
  • Holocene paleoclimate
  • Little Ice Age
  • Medieval Warm Period
  • Varves

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