Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 223–240 | Cite as

Abrupt deglaciation on the northeastern Tibetan Plateau: evidence from Lake Qinghai

  • Xiuju LiuEmail author
  • Steven M. Colman
  • Erik T. Brown
  • Andrew C. G. Henderson
  • Josef P. Werne
  • Jonathan A. Holmes
Original paper


We inferred the climate history for Central Asia over the past 20,000 years, using sediments from core QH07, taken in the southeastern basin of Lake Qinghai, which lies at the northeastern margin of the Tibetan Plateau. Results from multiple environmental indicators are internally consistent and yield a clear late Pleistocene and Holocene climate record. Carbonate content and total organic carbon (TOC) in Lake Qinghai sediments are interpreted as indicators of the strength of the Asian summer monsoon. Warm and wet intervals, associated with increased monsoon strength, are indicated by increased carbonate and TOC content. During the glacial period (~20,000 to ~14,600 cal year BP), summer monsoon intensity remained low and relatively constant at Lake Qinghai, suggesting cool, dry, and relatively stable climate conditions. The inferred stable, cold, arid environment of the glacial maximum seems to persist through the Younger Dryas time period, and little or no evidence of a warm interval correlative with the Bølling–Allerød is found in the QH07 record. The transition between the late Pleistocene and the Holocene, about 11,500 cal year BP, was abrupt, more so than indicated by speleothems in eastern China. The Holocene (~11,500 cal year BP to present) was a time of enhanced summer monsoon strength and greater variability, indicating relatively wetter but more unstable climatic conditions than those of the late Pleistocene. The warmest, wettest part of the Holocene, marked by increased organic matter and carbonate contents, occurred from ~11,500 to ~9,000 cal year BP, consistent with maximum summer insolation contrast between 30°N and 15°N. A gradual reduction in precipitation (weakened summer monsoon) is inferred from decreased carbonate content through the course of the Holocene. We propose that changes in the contrast of summer insolation between 30°N and 15°N are the primary control on the Asian monsoon system over glacial/interglacial time scales. Secondary influences may include regional and global albedo changes attributable to ice-cover and vegetation shifts and sea level changes (distance from moisture source in Pacific Ocean). The abruptness of the change at the beginning of the Holocene, combined with an increase in variability, suggest a threshold for the arrival of monsoonal rainfall at the northeastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau.


Lake Qinghai Tibetan Plateau Asian monsoon Geochemistry Abrupt deglaciation 



This work was supported by National Science Foundation grant EAR-0602412 to SMC. In addition, some AMS 14C data were supported by a NERC-RCL allocation (1247.1007) to JAH and ACGH. We thank LacCore (National Lacustrine Core Facility), Limnological Research Center, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities for laboratory assistance. We also thank MOE Key Laboratory of Western China’s Environmental Systems, Lanzhou University for field assistance. Helpful reviews were provided by David Madsen, Steffen Mischke, Mark Brenner, and an anonymous reviewer.

Supplementary material

10933_2013_9721_MOESM1_ESM.doc (8.8 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 9046 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xiuju Liu
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Steven M. Colman
    • 1
  • Erik T. Brown
    • 1
    • 3
  • Andrew C. G. Henderson
    • 4
  • Josef P. Werne
    • 1
    • 5
    • 7
  • Jonathan A. Holmes
    • 6
  1. 1.Large Lakes ObservatoryUniversity of Minnesota, DuluthDuluthUSA
  2. 2.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  3. 3.Department of Geological SciencesUniversity of Minnesota, DuluthDuluthUSA
  4. 4.School of Geography, Politics and SociologyNewcastle UniversityNewcastle upon TyneUK
  5. 5.Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryUniversity of Minnesota, DuluthDuluthUSA
  6. 6.Environmental Change Research CentreUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  7. 7.Department of Geology and Planetary ScienceUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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