Influence of global teleconnections on Holocene climate in Kamchatka

Lead Research Organisation: The Natural History Museum
Department Name: Life Sciences

Abstract

The study of past climate change, especially that which has occurred since the end of the last ice age about 11,000 years ago (the period known as The Holocene), provides important insights into how climate may change in the future and the influence of changes in ocean circulation and air masses. It also improves the ability of climate scientists to predict the scale and rapidity of future climate change and recognise the urgency to respond. Climate records collected at weather stations do not extend back long enough in time to capture the full extent of natural climate variability needed to be able to predict future climate change. However, it is possible to reconstruct past climate over thousands of years by studying the remains of plants and animals preserved in the mud that accumulates at the bottom of lakes. Diatoms, freshwater microscopic algae, and the larvae of non-biting midges (chironomids) respond in characteristic ways depending on summer temperatures or the relative acidity (pH) or amount of nutrients in the lake water. By finding out which temperatures, pH or nutrient concentrations are favoured by particular species of diatoms or chironomids today we can reconstruct quantitatively past environmental conditions from the semi-fossilised remains of these creatures, which are preserved in lake sediments. Thus analysis of a sediment core several metres long taken from a lake can be sliced at intervals of 1 cm or less and dated using radiocarbon to provide a highly detailed record of past climate change over thousands of years. In this project we propose to analyse midges and diatoms from three cores previously collected from Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. Kamchatka is a key region for understanding the extent of climate linkages between the North Atlantic and North Pacific regions, and hence some of the most important ways in which global climate change is driven. However, climate variability during the Holocene in this region is poorly understood as only a few studies have been completed. We will analyse midges from our three sediment cores over most of the Holocene at intervals of 40-80 years. We will use a 'midge thermometer' developed from modern distribution records of midges from throughout northern Russia, to reconstruct Holocene summer air temperatures. We will also use these midge records to reconstruct past changes in continentality or conversely oceanicity. A continental climate is governed by the relative influence of westerly winds blowing across northern Eurasia, which brings cold winters, short warm summers and less rainfall, whereas a more oceanic climate is influenced by Pacific winds which bring milder winters, cooler summers and more rain. Similarly, we will use diatoms from the same cores to quantify changes in the length of the summer and also any changes in pH or nutrients. An innovative aspect of this project will be to analyse the stable oxygen isotopes that are incorporated into the chitinous cuticle of the midge heads. Oxygen forms part of the chitin molecule and is derived from the water in which the midges are living. We expect that the ratio of stable oxygen isotopes incorporated into the midge heads will reflect the source of the water when the midge was alive. In non evaporative lakes this will tell us which air masses were driving the prevailing climate at that time (i.e. either from Eurasia or the North Pacific). By comparing our records with Holocene climate records available from other sites in the North Atlantic region, Eurasia, Alaska and the North Pacific we will be able to establish the extent of global climate links at times of different climatic regimes, for example the magnitude and timing of the Holocene Thermal Maximum and the Little Ice Age.

Publications

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Brooks S (2015) Holocene environmental change in Kamchatka: A synopsis in Global and Planetary Change

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Jones V (2015) The geography of Kamchatka in Global and Planetary Change

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Lombino A (2012) d(18) O analysis of organic compounds: problems with pyrolysis in molybdenum-lined reactors. in Rapid communications in mass spectrometry : RCM

 
Title Sonification of data 
Description The chironomid data through the Holocene was sonified using wind efects (for cool periods) and rain effects (for warm periods) to create an audio interpretation of changes in the midges assemblages and create an audio experience of climate change through the Holocene. 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact This audio version of the data presents a new way in which to interpret and experience the results of the chironomid response to climate change. 
 
Description We conducted a multiproxy, multisite, palaeoecological study of Holocene environmental change in Kamchatka, Far East Russia. We analysed pollen, diatom, chironomid, and testate amoebae assemblages, together with stable isotopes of oxygen and carbon, and sediment characteristics from the sediments of five lakes and a peat succession on a latitudinal gradient of the Kamchatka Peninsula, to infer environmental change and establish the major climate forcers and climatic teleconnections.
There are synchronous shifts in the assemblage composition of most of the biota studied and across most studied sites on the Kamxchatka Peninsula at 6.5-6.2 ka BP, 5.2 ka BP, 4.0 ka BP, and 3.5 ka BP, suggesting a response to strong regional climate forcing at these times. These dates correspond to the warmest part of the Holocene Thermal Maximum(HTM) (6.5-6.2 ka BP), the beginning of theNeoglacial cooling (5.2 ka BP), the coolest and wettest part of the Neoglacial (4.0 ka BP), and a switch to warmer and drier conditions at 3.5 ka BP. Our results provide evidence for the penetration and domination of different air masses at different periods during the Holocene.
Cool and dry periods in winter (e.g., at 6.0 ka BP) were driven by a relatively weak pressure gradient between the Siberian High and the Aleutian Low, whereas cool, wet periods in winter (e.g., the Neoglacial and during the LIA) developed when these two systems increased in strength. Warm, dry, continental periods in summer (e.g., at 2.5 ka BP) were driven by a weakening of the Siberian High. We find that the timing of the HTM in Kamchatka is later than in the Eurasian arctic but similar to northern Europe and the sub-arctic part of eastern
Siberia. This progressive onset of the HTM was due to the effects of postglacial ice-sheet decay that modulated
the routes of westerly storm tracks in Eurasia.
A major ecosystem driver was the Siberian dwarf pine Pinus pumila, which spread northward during the Holocene in response to increasing winter snow, and caused water chemistry changes on arrival in the catchments of our study lakes and a response in diatom and chironomid assemblages. We also detect short term responses, especially in diatom assemblages, to water chemistry changes following volcanic ash deposits.
Exploitation Route The results will be of use to climate modelers to validate the output of climate models and understand the influence and teleconnections of global climate forcing mechanisms. The data will also be used by palaeoecologists to further understanding the response of biota to climate change.
Sectors Education,Environment

 
Description Climate change in the Russian Far East 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 'Science Uncovered' public event at the Natural History Museum, London, September 2012-2014. Interactive live presentation describing our research project in Kamchatka with hands on exhibits and discussion. 9500 members of the public visited the NHM during the event and members of our team were engaged with members of the public from 16:30 to 22:30.

Generated lots of lively discussion
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014
 
Description Midges and climate change behind the scenes 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact 6th form students visit my laboratory at the Nautral History Museum and are shown the process from sample preparation, data analysis to publication of results.

After my talk I received feedback FROM THE TEACHER THAT THE PRESENTATION HAD STIMULATED CONVERSATION AND DISCUSSION AND THE SCHOOL STUDENTS SAID THEY HAD A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT WORKING AS A SCIENTIST WAS LIKE.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
 
Description Nature Live 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Nature Live is an interactive presentation in which Holocene climate change and climate inference using midges was presented and discussed. The presentation provoked discussion and questions. Audience age ranged from young children to old adults.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Reconstructing Holocene climates 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Oral presentation including information about environmental change in Kamchatka to Kent Geologists group (40 people)

Prompted discussion about climate change
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Science uncovered (NHM London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Science outreach to explain and discuss the purpose of our work to visitors to the Natural History Museum London on a special open evening. About 9000 people attended during the course of the evening and more than 500 were directly engaged with.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Using chironomids to reconstruct Holocene climate change in Russia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Oral presentation to lecturers and students at Aberystwyth University

Prompted discussion
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description What can midges tell us about climate change? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Interactive talk in the David Attenborough Studio of the Natural Histroy Museum, London, to 6th form students about how chironomids can be used to quantify past climate change.

The students reported that they had a better idea of what working as a scientist entailed and also the impacts of climate change
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
 
Description What can midges tell us about climate change? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Interactive presentation to 6th form school classes who visited the Natural History Museum, London. The presentation provoked questions and discussion and teachers reported that attitudes to the subject had changed and promoted increased interest.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015