, Volume 38, Issue 7-8, pp 1577-1591,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 12 May 2011

Causes of early Holocene desertification in arid central Asia


Paleoclimate records of effective moisture (precipitation minus evaporation, or PE) show a dry (low effective moisture) period in mid-latitude arid/semi-arid central Asia during the early Holocene (11,000–8,000 years ago) relative to the middle and late Holocene, in contrast to evidence for greater-than-present precipitation at the same time in the south and east Asian monsoonal areas. To investigate the spatial differences in climate response over mid-latitude central Asia and monsoonal Asia we conducted a series of simulations with the Community Climate System Model version 3 coupled climate model for the early, middle and late Holocene. The simulations test the climatic impact of all important forcings for the early Holocene, including changes in orbital parameters, the presence of the remnant Laurentide ice sheet and deglacial freshening of the North Atlantic. Model results clearly show the early Holocene patterns indicated by proxy records, including both the decreased effective moisture in arid central Asia, which occurs in the model primarily during the winter months, and the increase in summer monsoon precipitation in south and east Asia. The model results suggest that dry conditions in the early Holocene in central Asia are closely related to decreased water vapor advection due to reduced westerly wind speed and less evaporation upstream from the Mediterranean, Black, and Caspian Seas in boreal winter. As an extra forcing to the early Holocene climate system, the Laurentide ice sheet and meltwater fluxes have a substantial cooling effect over high latitudes, especially just over and downstream of the ice sheets, but contribute only to a small degree to the early Holocene aridity in central Asia. Instead, most of the effective moisture signal can be explained by orbital forcing decreasing the early Holocene latitudinal temperature gradient and wintertime surface temperature. We find little evidence for regional subsidence related to a stronger summer Asian monsoon in forcing early Holocene aridity in central Asia, as has been previously hypothesized.