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Dating of ancient permafrost is essential for understanding long-term permafrost stability and interpreting palaeoenvironmental conditions but presents substantial challenges to geochronology. Here, we apply four methods to permafrost from the megaslump at Batagay, east Siberia: (1) optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of quartz, (2) post-infrared infrared-stimulated luminescence (pIRIR) dating of K-feldspar, (3) radiocarbon dating of organic material, and (4) 36Cl/Cl dating of ice wedges. All four chronometers produce stratigraphically consistent and comparable ages. However, OSL appears to date Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3 to MIS 2 deposits more reliably than pIRIR, whereas the latter is more consistent with 36Cl/Cl ages for older deposits. The lower ice complex developed at least 650 ka, potentially during MIS 16, and represents the oldest dated permafrost in western Beringia and the second-oldest known ice in the Northern Hemisphere. It has survived multiple interglaciations, including the super-interglaciation MIS 11c, though a thaw unconformity and erosional surface indicate at least one episode of permafrost thaw and erosion occurred sometime between MIS 16 and 6. The upper ice complex formed from at least 60 to 30 ka during late MIS 4 to 3. The sand unit above the upper ice complex is dated to MIS 3–2, whereas the sand unit below formed at some time between MIS 4 and 16.
A megaslump at Batagaika, in northern Yakutia, exposes a remarkable stratigraphic sequence of permafrost deposits ~50–80 m thick. To determine their potential for answering key questions about Quaternary environmental and climatic change in northeast Siberia, we carried out a reconnaissance study of their cryostratigraphy and paleoecology, supported by four rangefinder 14C ages. The sequence includes two ice complexes separated by a unit of fine sand containing narrow syngenetic ice wedges and multiple paleosols. Overall, the sequence developed as permafrost grew syngenetically through an eolian sand sheet aggrading on a hillslope. Wood remains occur in two forest beds, each associated with a reddened weathering horizon. The lower bed contains high amounts of Larix pollen (>20%), plus small amounts of Picea and Pinus pumila, and is attributed to interglacial conditions. Pollen from the overlying sequence is dominated by herbaceous taxa (~70%–80%) attributed to an open tundra landscape during interstadial climatic conditions. Of three hypothetical age schemes considered, we tentatively attribute much of the Batagaika sequence to Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 3. The upper and lower forest beds may represent a mid–MIS 3 optimum and MIS 5, respectively, although we cannot discount alternative attributions to MIS 5 and 7.
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