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A continental perspective on the timing of environmental change during the last glacial stage in Australia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 May 2021

Haidee Cadd*
Department of Earth Sciences and Sprigg Geobiology Centre, University of Adelaide, SA, Australia ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia Earth and Sustainability Research Centre (ESSRC), School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Lynda Petherick
School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
Jonathan Tyler
Department of Earth Sciences and Sprigg Geobiology Centre, University of Adelaide, SA, Australia
Annika Herbert
School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Tim J Cohen
ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia School of Earth, Atmospheric and Life Sciences, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia
Kale Sniderman
ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Timothy T. Barrows
School of Earth, Atmospheric and Life Sciences, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom
Reka H. Fulop
School of Earth, Atmospheric and Life Sciences, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia Australia's Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, New Illawarra Rd, Lucas Heights NSW 2234, Australia
Jasper Knight
School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
A. Peter Kershaw
School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University, VIC, Australia
Eric A. Colhoun
School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia
Mathew R.P. Harris
Earth and Sustainability Research Centre (ESSRC), School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, Keele University, Staffordshire, United Kingdom
*Corresponding author at: School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2033, NSW, Australia E-mail addresss: (H. Cadd)


The timing and duration of the coldest period in the last glacial stage, often referred to as the last glacial maximum (LGM), has been observed to vary spatially and temporally. In Australia, this period is characterised by colder, and in some places more arid, climates than today. We applied Monte-Carlo change point analysis to all available continuous proxy records covering this period, primarily pollen records, from across Australia (n = 37) to assess this change. We find a significant change point occurred (within uncertainty) at 28.6 ± 2.8 ka in 25 records. We interpret this change as a shift to cooler climates, associated with a widespread decline in biological productivity. An additional change point occurred at 17.7 ± 2.2 ka in 24 records. We interpret this change as a shift towards warmer climates, associated with increased biological productivity. We broadly characterise the period between 28.6 (± 2.8) – 17.7 (± 2.2) ka as an extended period of maximum cooling, with low productivity vegetation that may have occurred as a combined response to reduced temperatures, lower moisture availability and atmospheric CO2. These results have implications for how the spatial and temporal coherence of climate change, in this case during the LGM, can be best interrogated and interpreted.

Thematic Set: Southern Hemisphere Last Glacial Maximum (SHeMax)
Copyright © University of Washington. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2021

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