Advances in Atmospheric Sciences

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 291–295 | Cite as

Abrupt climate change around 4 ka BP: Role of the Thermohaline circulation as indicated by a GCM experiment

  • Wang Shaowu 
  • Zhou Tianjun 
  • Cai Jingning 
  • Zhu Jinhong 
  • Xie Zhihui 
  • Gong Daoyi 


A great deal of palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic evidence suggests that a predominant temperature drop and an aridification occurred at ca. 4.0 ka BP. Palaeoclimate studies in China support this dedution. The collapse of ancient civilizations at ca. 4.0 ka BP in the Nile Valley and Mesopotamia has been attributed to climate-induced aridification. A widespread alternation of the ancient cultures was also found in China at ca. 4.0 ka BP in concert with the collapse of the civilizations in the Old World. Palaeoclimatic studies indicate that the abrupt climate change at 4.0 ka BP is one of the realizations of the cold phase in millennial scale climate oscillations, which may be related to the modulation of the Thermohaline Circulation (THC) over the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, this study conducts a numerical experiment of a GCM with SST forcing to simulate the impact of the weakening of the THC. Results show a drop in temperature from North Europe, the northern middle East Asia, and northern East Asia and a significant reduction of precipitation in East Africa, the Middle East, the Indian Peninsula, and the Yellow River Valley. This seems to support the idea that coldness and aridification at ca. 4.0 ka BP was caused by the weakening of the THC.

Key words

abrupt climate change 4 ka BP thermohaline circulation collapse of ancient civilization 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alley, R. B., P. U. Clark, L. D. Keigwin, and R. S. Webb, 1999: Making sense of millennial-scale climate change. Mechanisms of global climate change at millennial time scales, Clark, P. U. et al., Eds., Washington, D C: AGU, 385–394.Google Scholar
  2. Bond, G. C., W. Showers, M. Elliot, M. Evans, R. Lotti, I. Hajdas, G. Bonani, and S. Johson, 1999: The North Atlantic.s 1–2 kyr climate rhythm: Relation to Heinrich events, Dansgaard/Oeschger cycles and the Little Ice Age.Mechanisms of Global Climate Change at Millennial Time Scales, P. U. Clark et al., Eds. Washington, D C: AGU, 35–38.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, D. M., Ed., 2002:Ancient India: Land of Mystery, Lost Civilizations. Vol. 3, Time-Life Inc., Chinese translation by Li Xuyin, Hua Xia Publishing House and Guanxi Peoples Publishing House, Beijing, 197pp.Google Scholar
  4. Group of Experts, 2000:Project of Chronology Studies on the Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties-Report of AD. 1996–2000: Simplified Version. World Book Press, Beijing, 86–88. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  5. Kenoyer, M., 1998:Ancient Cities of Indus Valley Civilization. Oxford University Press, London, Chinese translation by Zhang Chunxu, Zhejiang People Press, Hangzhou, 2000, 363pp.Google Scholar
  6. Kiehl, J. T., J. J. Hack, G. B. Bonan, B. A. Boville, B. P. Briegleb, D. L. Williamson, and P. J. Rasch, 1996: Description of the NCAR Community Climate Model (CCM3). NCAR Tech. Note, 152pp. [Available from the NCAR CCM3 web site].Google Scholar
  7. Kiehl, J. T., J. J. Hack, G. B. Bonan, B. A. Boville, D. L. Williamson, and P. J. Rasch, 1998: The National Center for Atmospheric Research Community Climate Model: CCM3.J. Climate,11, 1131–1149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Kong Shaochen, Du Naiqiu, Xu Qinghai, and Tong Guobang, 1992: Palaeoclimatic variations of flora in North China during the Megathermal of the Holocene.Holocene Megathermal Climate and Environment in China, Shi Yafeng and Kong Shaochen, Eds., China Ocean Press, Beijing, 48–65. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  9. Kukla, G., H. N. Dalfes, and H. Weiss, 1997: Preface.Third Millennium BC Climate Change and the Old World Social Collapse, H. N. Dalfes et al., Eds., Springe-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg: V-VII.Google Scholar
  10. Manabe, S., and R. J. Stouffer, 2000: Study of abrupt climate change by a coupled ocean-atmosphere model.Quaternary Science Review,19, 285–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Qiu Shihua, Chen Tiemei, and Cai Lianzhen, Eds., 1990:14CChronological Research in China. Science Press, Beijing, 1–366. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  12. Suzuki Hideo, 1979: 3500 years ago-climatic changes and ancient civilizations. Bulletin of the Department of Geography, University of Tokyo,11, 43–58.Google Scholar
  13. Vertenstein, M., Kluzek E. B., User’s Guide to LSM1.1, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research Boulder, Colorado, 1–30pp. [Available from the NCAR CCM3 Web site:].Google Scholar
  14. Wang Huijun, 2002: The Mid-Holocene climate simulated by a grid-point AGCM coupled with a Biome Model.Adv. Atmos. Sci.,19(2), 205–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Wang Shaowu, and Xie Zhihui, 2002: Climate variability at millennial time scales.Earth Science Frontiers,9, 143–152. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  16. Watson, R., J. Houghton, and Ding Yihui, 2001: Climate Change 2001. The Scientific Basis, Summary for policymakers and technical summary of the working group 1 report. WMO. UNEP, 1–98.Google Scholar
  17. Weiss, H., 1993: The genesis and collapse of third millennium North Mesopotamian civilization.Science,262, 995–1004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Weiss, H., 1997: Late third millennium abrupt climate change and social collapse in West Asia and Egypt.Third Millennium BC Climate Change and the Old World Social Collapse, H. N. Dalfes et al., Eds., Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg, 711–723.Google Scholar
  19. Weiss, H., and R. S. Bradlley, 2001: What drives societal collapse.Science,296, 609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Wu Wenxiang, and Liu Tungsheng, 2001: 5,500 a BP climatic event and its implications for the emergence of civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia and neolothic cultural development in China.Quaternary Sciences,21, 443–451. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  21. Yang Huairen, 1993: Palaeomonsoon, mid Holocene deluges and sea level changes in China.Climatological Studies-Climatic and Chinese Climatic Issues, Yao Zhensheng, Ed., China Meteorological Press, Beijing, 194–204. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  22. Yu Ge, Chen Xing, Liu Jian, and Wang Sumin, 2000: Modeling and diagnosis on climate in East Asia during LGM.Chinese Science Bulletin,45(20), 2153–2159. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  23. Zhao Bele, 1999: The Endless Nivana. Yunnan People Press, Kunming, 211pp. (in Chinese)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Advances in Atmospheric Sciences 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wang Shaowu 
    • 1
  • Zhou Tianjun 
    • 2
  • Cai Jingning 
    • 1
  • Zhu Jinhong 
    • 1
  • Xie Zhihui 
    • 1
  • Gong Daoyi 
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Atmospheric Sciences, School of PhysicsPeking UniversityBeijing
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Numerical Modeling for Atmospheric Sciences and Geophysical Fluid Dynamics, Institute of Atmospheric PhysicsChinese Academy of SciencesBeijing
  3. 3.Key Lab of Environmental Change and Natural Disaster, Ministry of Education, Institute of Resources ScienceBeijing Normal UniversityBeijing

Personalised recommendations