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The isotope hydrology of Quaternary climate change

By W.G. Darling

Abstract

Understanding the links between climate change and human migration and culture is an important theme in Quaternary archaeology. While oxygen and hydrogen stable isotopes in high-latitude ice cores provide the ultimate detailed record of palaeoclimate extending back to the Middle Pleistocene, groundwater can act as a climate archive for areas at lower latitudes, permitting a degree of calibration for proxy records such as lake sediments, bones, and organic matter. Not only can oxygen and hydrogen stable isotopes be measured on waters, but the temperature of recharge can be calculated from the amount of the atmospheric noble gases neon, argon, krypton, and xenon in solution, while residence time can be estimated from the decay of the radioisotopes carbon-14, chlorine-36, and krypton-81 over timescales comparable to the ice core record. The Pleistocene–Holocene transition is well characterised in aquifers worldwide, and it is apparent that isotope–temperature relationships of the present day are not necessarily transferable to past climatic regimes, with important implications for the interpretation of proxy isotope data. Groundwaters dating back to one million years, i.e., to beyond the Middle Pleistocene, are only found in major aquifer basins and information is relatively sparse and of low resolution. Speleothem fluid inclusions offer a way of considerably increasing this resolution, but both speleothem formation and large-scale groundwater recharge requires humid conditions, which may be relatively infrequent for areas currently experiencing arid climates. Both types of record therefore require caution in their interpretation when considering a particular archaeological context.\ud \u

Publisher: Elsevier
Year: 2011
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2010.05.006
OAI identifier: oai:nora.nerc.ac.uk:14208

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