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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.
Late Quaternary landscapes of unglaciated Beringia were largely shaped by ice-wedge polygon tundra. Ice Complex (IC) strata preserve such ancient polygon formations. Here we report on the Yukagir IC from Bol'shoy Lyakhovsky Island in northeastern Siberia and suggest that new radioisotope disequilibria (230Th/U) dates of the Yukagir IC peat confirm its formation during the Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 7a–c interglacial period. The preservation of the ice-rich Yukagir IC proves its resilience to last interglacial and late glacial–Holocene warming. This study compares the Yukagir IC to IC strata of MIS 5, MIS 3, and MIS 2 ages exposed on Bol'shoy Lyakhovsky Island. Besides high intrasedimental ice content and syngenetic ice wedges intersecting silts, sandy silts, the Yukagir IC is characterized by high organic matter (OM) accumulation and low OM decomposition of a distinctive Drepanocladus moss-peat. The Yukagir IC pollen data reveal grass-shrub-moss tundra indicating rather wet summer conditions similar to modern ones. The stable isotope composition of Yukagir IC wedge ice is similar to those of the MIS 5 and MIS 3 ICs pointing to similar atmospheric moisture generation and transport patterns in winter. IC data from glacial and interglacial periods provide insights into permafrost and climate dynamics since about 200 ka.
Beringian climate and environmental history are poorly characterized at its easternmost edge. Lake sediments from the northern Yukon Territory have recorded sedimentation, vegetation, summer temperature and precipitation changes since ~ 16 cal ka BP. Herb-dominated tundra persisted until ~ 14.7 cal ka BP with mean July air temperatures ≤ 5°C colder and annual precipitation 50 to 120 mm lower than today. Temperatures rapidly increased during the Bølling/Allerød interstadial towards modern conditions, favoring establishment of Betula-Salix shrub tundra. Pollen-inferred temperature reconstructions recorded a pronounced Younger Dryas stadial in east Beringia with a temperature drop of ~ 1.5°C (~ 2.5 to 3.0°C below modern conditions) and low net precipitation (90 to 170 mm) but show little evidence of an early Holocene thermal maximum in the pollen record. Sustained low net precipitation and increased evaporation during early Holocene warming suggest a moisture-limited spread of vegetation and an obscured summer temperature maximum. Northern Yukon Holocene moisture availability increased in response to a retreating Laurentide Ice Sheet, postglacial sea level rise, and decreasing summer insolation that in turn led to establishment of Alnus-Betula shrub tundra from ~ 5 cal ka BP until present, and conversion of a continental climate into a coastal-maritime climate near the Beaufort Sea.
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