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Variability of East Asian summer monsoon precipitation during the Holocene and possible forcing mechanisms


Projecting how the East Asian summer monsoon (EASM) rainfall will change with global warming is essential for human sustainability. Reconstructing Holocene climate can provide critical insight into its forcing and future variability. However, quantitative reconstructions of Holocene summer precipitation are lacking for tropical and subtropical China, which is the core region of the EASM influence. Here we present high-resolution annual and summer rainfall reconstructions covering the whole Holocene based on the pollen record at Xinjie site from the lower Yangtze region. Summer rainfall was less seasonal and ~ 30% higher than modern values at ~ 10–6 cal kyr BP and gradually declined thereafter, which broadly followed the Northern Hemisphere summer insolation. Over the last two millennia, however, the summer rainfall has deviated from the downward trend of summer insolation. We argue that greenhouse gas forcing might have offset summer insolation forcing and contributed to the late Holocene rainfall anomaly, which is supported by the TraCE-21 ka transient simulation. Besides, tropical sea-surface temperatures could modulate summer rainfall by affecting evaporation of seawater. The rainfall pattern concurs with stalagmite and other proxy records from southern China but differs from mid-Holocene rainfall maximum recorded in arid/semiarid northern China. Summer rainfall in northern China was strongly suppressed by high-northern-latitude ice volume forcing during the early Holocene in spite of high summer insolation. In addition, the El Niño/Southern Oscillation might be responsible for droughts of northern China and floods of southern China during the late Holocene. Furthermore, quantitative rainfall reconstructions indicate that the Paleoclimate Modeling Intercomparison Project (PMIP) simulations underestimate the magnitude of Holocene precipitation changes. Our results highlight the spatial and temporal variability of the Holocene EASM precipitation and potential forcing mechanisms, which are very helpful for calibration of paleoclimate models and prediction of future precipitation changes in East Asia in the scenario of global warming.

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We are grateful to Prof. Fahu Chen for inspiring us to write this paper, to Prof. Zhuo Zheng, Qinghai Xu, and Houyuan Lu for providing the modern surface pollen data, to three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments that greatly improved this manuscript. We thank all members of the East Asian Pollen Database (EAPD) and Chinese Quaternary Pollen Database (CPD) for their dedication. This research is supported by National Key R&D Program of China (2016YFA0600501), National Natural Science Foundation of China (41571179 and 41671196) and Science & Technology Support Program of Jiangsu Province, China (BE2014705).

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Correspondence to Chunmei Ma.

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Lu, F., Ma, C., Zhu, C. et al. Variability of East Asian summer monsoon precipitation during the Holocene and possible forcing mechanisms. Clim Dyn 52, 969–989 (2019).

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  • Holocene
  • EASM
  • Summer precipitation
  • CO2 forcing
  • Ice volume forcing
  • Tropical forcing
  • ENSO
  • Pollen
  • Quantitative reconstruction
  • Climate modeling