Climate Dynamics

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 775-802

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Pollen-based continental climate reconstructions at 6 and 21 ka: a global synthesis

  • P. J. BartleinAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Oregon Email author 
  • , S. P. HarrisonAffiliated withSchool of Geographical Sciences, University of BristolSchool of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University
  • , S. BrewerAffiliated withBotany Department, University of Wyoming
  • , S. ConnorAffiliated withCentre for Marine and Environmental Research, University of the Algarve
  • , B. A. S. DavisAffiliated withSchool of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
  • , K. GajewskiAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Ottawa
  • , J. GuiotAffiliated withCEREGE
  • , T. I. Harrison-PrenticeAffiliated withGTZ, PAKLIM
  • , A. HendersonAffiliated withDepartment of Geology and Geophysics, University of Minnesota
    • , O. PeyronAffiliated withLaboratoire Chrono-Environnement UMR 6249 CNRS-UFC UFR Sciences et Techniques
    • , I. C. PrenticeAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, Macquarie UniversityQUEST, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol
    • , M. ScholzeAffiliated withQUEST, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol
    • , H. SeppäAffiliated withDepartment of Geology, University of Helsinki
    • , B. ShumanAffiliated withDepartment of Geology and Geophysics, University of Wyoming
    • , S. SugitaAffiliated withInstitute of Ecology, Tallinn University
    • , R. S. ThompsonAffiliated withUS Geological Survey
    • , A. E. ViauAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Ottawa
    • , J. WilliamsAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Wisconsin
    • , H. WuAffiliated withKey Laboratory of Cenozoic Geology and Environment, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences


Subfossil pollen and plant macrofossil data derived from 14C-dated sediment profiles can provide quantitative information on glacial and interglacial climates. The data allow climate variables related to growing-season warmth, winter cold, and plant-available moisture to be reconstructed. Continental-scale reconstructions have been made for the mid-Holocene (MH, around 6 ka) and Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, around 21 ka), allowing comparison with palaeoclimate simulations currently being carried out as part of the fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The synthesis of the available MH and LGM climate reconstructions and their uncertainties, obtained using modern-analogue, regression and model-inversion techniques, is presented for four temperature variables and two moisture variables. Reconstructions of the same variables based on surface-pollen assemblages are shown to be accurate and unbiased. Reconstructed LGM and MH climate anomaly patterns are coherent, consistent between variables, and robust with respect to the choice of technique. They support a conceptual model of the controls of Late Quaternary climate change whereby the first-order effects of orbital variations and greenhouse forcing on the seasonal cycle of temperature are predictably modified by responses of the atmospheric circulation and surface energy balance.


Pollen Plant macrofossils Palaeovegetation palaeoclimate reconstructions Reconstruction uncertainties Mid-Holocene Last glacial maximum Climate model evaluation