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North–south palaeohydrological contrasts in the central Mediterranean during the Holocene: tentative synthesis and working hypotheses

April 11, 2013

On the basis of a multi-proxy approach and a strategy combining lacustrine and marine records along a north–south transect, data collected in the Central Mediterranean within the framework of a collaborative project have led to reconstruction of high-resolution and well-dated palaeohydrological records and to assessment of their spatial and temporal coherency. Contrasting patterns of palaeohydrological changes have been evidenced in the Central Mediterranean: south (north) of around 40° N of latitude, the middle part of the Holocene was characterised by lake-level maxima (minima), during an interval dated to ca. 10 300–4500 cal BP to the south and 9000–4500 cal BP to the north. Available data suggest that these contrasting palaeohydrological patterns operated throughout the Holocene, both on millennial and centennial scales. Regarding precipitation seasonality, maximum humidity in the Central Mediterranean during the middle part of the Holocene was characterised by humid winters and dry summers north of ca. 40° N, and humid winters and summers south of ca. 40° N. This may explain an apparent conflict between palaeoclimatic records depending on the proxies used for reconstruction as well as the synchronous expansion of tree species taxa with contrasting climatic requirements. In addition, south of ca. 40° N, the first millennium of the Holocene was characterised by very dry climatic conditions not only in the Eastern, but also in the Central and the Western Mediterranean zones as reflected by low lake levels and delayed reforestation. These results suggest that, in addition to the influence of the Nile discharge reinforced by the African monsoon, the deposition of Sapropel 1 has been favoured (1) by an increase in winter precipitation in the northern Mediterranean borderlands, and (2) by an increase in winter and summer precipitation in the southern Mediterranean area. The climate reversal following the Holocene climate optimum appears to have been punctuated by two major climate changes around 7500 and 4500 cal BP.

In the Central Mediterranean, the Holocene palaeohydrological changes developed in response to a combination of orbital, ice-sheet and solar forcing factors. The maximum humidity interval in the south-central Mediterranean started at ca. 10 300 cal BP, in correlation with the decline (1) of the possible blocking effects of the North Atlantic anticyclone linked to maximum insolation, and/or (2) of the influence of the remnant ice sheets and fresh water forcing in the North Atlantic Ocean. In the north-central Mediterranean, the lake-level minimum interval began only around 9000 cal BP when the Fennoscandian ice-sheet disappeared and a prevailing positive NAO-type circulation developed in the North Atlantic area. The major palaeohydrological oscillation around 4500–4000 cal BP may be a non-linear response to the gradual decrease, with additional key seasonal and interhemispherical changes, in insolation. On a centennial scale, the successive climatic events which punctuated the entire Holocene in the central Mediterranean coincided with cooling events associated with deglacial outbursts in the North Atlantic area and decreases in solar activity during the interval 11 700–7000 cal BP, and to a possible combination of NAO-type circulation and solar forcing since ca. 7000 cal BP onwards. Thus, regarding the centennial-scale climatic oscillations, the Mediterranean Basin appears to have been strongly linked to the North Atlantic area and affected by solar activity over the entire Holocene.

In addition to model experiments, a better understanding of forcing factors and past atmospheric circulation patterns behind the Holocene palaeohydrological changes in the Mediterranean area will require further investigation to establish additional high-resolution and well-dated records in selected locations around the Mediterranean Basin and in adjacent regions. Special attention should be paid to greater precision in the reconstruction, on millennial and centennial time scales, of changes in the latitudinal location of the limit between the northern and southern palaeohydrological Mediterranean sectors, depending on (1) the intensity and/or characteristics of climatic periods/oscillations (e.g. Holocene thermal maximum versus Neoglacial, as well as, for instance, the 8.2 ka event versus the 4 ka event or the Little Ice Age), and (2) on varying geographical conditions from the western to the eastern Mediterranean areas (longitudinal gradients).

Magny M, Combourieu Nebout N, de Beaulieu J L, Bout-Roumazeilles V, ColombaroliD, et al., 2013, North–south palaeohydrological contrasts in the central Mediterranean during the Holocene: tentative synthesis and working hypotheses, Climate of the Past Discussions, 9, 1901-1967, doi:10.5194/cpd-9-1901-2013. Article.

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