On the enigmatic similarity in Greenland δ18O between the Oldest and Younger Dryas

Francesco S.R. Pausata, Marcus Löfverström

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The last deglaciation (20.0-10.0 kyr B.P.) was punctuated by two major cooling events affecting the Northern Hemisphere: the Oldest Dryas (OD; 18.0-14.7 kyr B.P.) and the Younger Dryas (YD; 12.8-11.5 kyr B.P.). Greenland ice core δ18O temperature reconstructions suggest that the YD was as cold as the OD, despite a 50 ppmv increase in atmospheric CO2, while modeling studies suggest that the YD was approximately 4-5°C warmer than the OD. This discrepancy has been surmised to result from changes in the origin of the water vapor delivered to Greenland; however, this hypothesis has not been hitherto tested. Here we use an atmospheric circulation model with an embedded moisture-tracing module to investigate atmospheric processes that may have been responsible for the similar δ18O values during the OD and YD. Our results show that the summer-to-winter precipitation ratio over central Greenland in the OD is twice as high as in the YD experiment, which shifts the δ18O signal toward warmer (summer) temperatures (enriched δ18O values and it accounts for ∼45% of the expected YD-OD δ18O difference). A change in the inversion (cloud) temperature relationship between the two climate states further contributes (∼20%) to altering the δ18O-temperature-relation model. Our experiments also show a 7% decrease of δ18O-depleted precipitation from distant regions (e.g., the Pacific Ocean) in the OD, hence further contributing (15-20%) in masking the actual temperature difference. All together, these changes provide a physical explanation for the ostensible similarity in the ice core δ18O temperature reconstructions in Greenland during OD and YD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10470-10477
Number of pages8
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 16 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Greenland δO
  • Heinrich events
  • deglaciation
  • ice core temperature reconstructions
  • moisture tracing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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