Timing and structure of the Younger Dryas event and its underlying climate dynamics

Hai Cheng, Haiwei Zhang, Christoph Spötl, Jonathan Baker, Ashish Sinha, Hanying Li, Miguel Bartolomé, Ana Moreno, Gayatri Kathayat, Jingyao Zhao, Xiyu Dong, Youwei Li, Youfeng Ning, Xue Jia, Baoyun Zong, Yassine Ait Brahim, Carlos Pérez-Mejiás, Yanjun Cai, Valdir F. Novello, Francisco W. CruzJeffrey P. Severinghaus, Zhisheng An, R. Lawrence Edwards

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73 Scopus citations


The Younger Dryas (YD), arguably the most widely studied millennialscale extreme climate event, was characterized by diverse hydroclimate shifts globally and severe cooling at high northern latitudes that abruptly punctuated the warming trend from the last glacial to the present interglacial. To date, a precise understanding of its trigger, propagation, and termination remains elusive. Here, we present speleothem oxygen-isotope data that, in concert with other proxy records, allow us to quantify the timing of the YD onset and termination at an unprecedented subcentennial temporal precision across the North Atlantic, Asian Monsoon-Westerlies, and South American Monsoon regions. Our analysis suggests that the onsets of YD in the North Atlantic (12,870 ± 30 B.P.) and the Asian Monsoon- Westerlies region are essentially synchronous within a few decades and lead the onset in Antarctica, implying a north-to-south climate signal propagation via both atmospheric (decadal-time scale) and oceanic (centennial-time scale) processes, similar to the Dansgaard- Oeschger events during the last glacial period. In contrast, the YD termination may have started first in Antarctica at ~11,900 B.P., or perhaps even earlier in the western tropical Pacific, followed by the North Atlantic between ~11,700 ± 40 and 11,610 ± 40 B.P. These observations suggest that the initial YD termination might have originated in the Southern Hemisphere and/or the tropical Pacific, indicating a Southern Hemisphere/tropics to North Atlantic-Asian Monsoon-Westerlies directionality of climatic recovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23408-23417
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number38
StatePublished - Sep 22 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. This work was supported by grants from National Nature Science Foundation of China (NSFC 41888101 and 41731174 to H.C.) and US NSF Grant (1702816 to R.L.E. and H.C.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Climate dynamics
  • Event phasing
  • Structure
  • Timing
  • Younger Dryas


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