Chinese Science Bulletin

, Volume 59, Issue 31, pp 4115–4122 | Cite as

Higher sea surface temperature in the northern South China Sea during the natural warm periods of late Holocene than recent decades

  • Hong Yan
  • Liguang SunEmail author
  • Da Shao
  • Yuhong Wang
  • Gangjian Wei
Article Geology


The large-scale syntheses of global mean temperatures in IPCC fourth report suggested that the Northern Hemisphere temperature in the second half of the 20th century was likely the highest in at least the past 1,300 years and the 1990s was likely the warmest decade. However, this remains debated and the controversy is centered on whether temperatures during the recent half century were higher than those during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA, AD 800–1300) and the Roman Warm Period (RWP, BC 200–AD 400), the most recent two natural warm periods of the late Holocene. Here the high resolution sea surface temperatures (SSTs) of two time windows around AD 990 (±40) and AD 50 (±40), which located in the MCA and RWP respectively, were reconstructed by the Sr/Ca ratio and δ 18O of Tradacna gigas shells from the northern South China Sea. The results suggested that the mean SSTs around AD 990 (±40) and AD 50 (±40) were 28.1 °C and 28.7 °C, 0.8 °C and 1.4 °C higher than that during AD 1994–2005, respectively. These records, together with the tree ring, lake sediment and literature records from the eastern China and northwest China, imply that the temperatures in recent decades do not seem to exceed the natural changes in MCA, at least in eastern Asia from northwest China to northern SCS.


Tridacna South China Sea Late Holocene Natural warm periods Sea surface temperature 



This work was supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program-Climate Change: Carbon Budget and Relevant Issues of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA05080302), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41176042), the National Basic Research Program of China (2010CB428902 and 2013CB955900) and the Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Y254041438 and Y355041438). We thank Xiaodong Liu, Louhua Xie, Wenfeng Deng, Zijun Wu, Jing Huang, Yi Liu, Yuhan Luo, Xiaoyu Liu, Bai Zhou and Shaolong Zhang for their help in sampling and analyzing.


  1. 1.
    Mann ME, Zhang Z, Hughes MK et al (2008) Proxy-based reconstructions of hemispheric and global surface temperature variations over the past two millennia. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105:13252–13257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    IPCC (2007) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Mann M, Zhang Z, Rutherford S et al (2009) Global signatures and dynamical origins of the little ice age and medieval climate anomaly. Science 326:1256–1260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Lamb H (1965) The early medieval warm epoch and its sequel. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 1:13–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Lamb H (1977) Climate: present, past and future. In: Lamb H (ed) Climatic history and the future, vol 2. Barnes and Noble, LondonGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Esper J, Cook E, Schweingruber F (2002) Low-frequency signals in long tree-ring chronologies for reconstructing past temperature variability. Science 295:2250–2253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ge Q, Zheng J, Fang X et al (2003) Winter half-year temperature reconstruction for the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River and Yangtze River, China, during the past 2000 years. Holocene 13:933–940Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Soon W, Baliunas S (2002) Proxy climatic and environmental changes of the past 1000 years. Clim Res 23:89–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    He Y, Liu W, Zhao C et al (2013) Solar influenced late Holocene temperature changes on the northern Tibetan Plateau. Chin Sci Bull 57:1053–1059CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Soon W, Baliunas S, Idso C et al (2003) Reconstructing climatic and environmental changes of the past 1000 years: a reappraisal. Energy Environ 14:233–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Rosewater J (1965) The family Tridacnidae in the Indo-Pacific. Indo-Pacific Mollusca 1:347–396Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Aharon P, Chappell J (1986) Oxygen isotopes, sea level changes and the temperature history of a coral reef environment in New Guinea over the last 105 years. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 56:337–379CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Watanabe T, Oba T (1999) Daily reconstruction of water temperature from oxygen isotopic ratios of a modern Tridacna shell using a freezing microtome sampling technique. J Geophys Res Oceans 104:20667–20674CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Aharon P, Chappell J, Compston W (1980) Stable isotope and sea-level data from New Guinea supports Antarctic ice-surge theory of ice ages. Nature 283:649–651CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Aharon P (1983) 140,000–yr isotope climatic record from raised coral reefs in New Guinea. Nature 304:720–723CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Aharon P (1991) Recorders of reef environment histories-stable isotopes in corals, giant clams, and calcareous algae. Coral Reefs 10:71–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Watanabe T, Suzuki A, Kawahata H et al (2004) A 60–year isotopic record from a mid-Holocene fossil giant clam (T. gigas) in the Ryukyu Islands: physiological and paleoclimatic implications. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 212:343–354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Welsh K, Elliot M, Tudhope A et al (2011) Giant bivalves (T. gigas) as recorders of ENSO variability. Earth Planet Sci Lett 307:266–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Yan H, Shao D, Wang Y et al (2013) Sr/Ca profile of long-lived Tridacna gigas bivalves from South China Sea: a new high-resolution SST proxy. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 112:52–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Grossman E, Ku T (1986) Oxygen and carbon isotope fractionation in biogenic aragonite: temperature effects. Chem Geol 59:59–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Beck J, Edwards R, Ito E et al (1992) Sea-surface temperature from coral skeletal strontium/calcium ratios. Science 257:644–647CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Alibert C, Mcculloch MT (1997) Strontium/calcium ratios in modern Porites corals from the Great Barrier Reef as a proxy for sea surface temperature: calibration of the thermometer and monitoring of ENSO. Paleoceanography 12:345–363CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Mcculloch M, Mortimer G, Esat T et al (1996) High resolution windows into early Holocene climate: Sr/Ca coral records from the Huon Peninsula. Earth Planet Sci Lett 138:169–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Mcculloch M, Gagan M, Mortimer G et al (1994) A high-resolution Sr/Ca and δ 18O coral record from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, and the 1982–1983 El Nino. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 58:2747–2754CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Sano Y, Kobayashi S, Shirai K et al (2012) Past daily light cycle recorded in the strontium/calcium ratios of giant clam shells. Nat Commun 3:761CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Schrag DP (1999) Rapid analysis of high-precision Sr/Ca ratios in corals and other marine carbonates. Paleoceanography 14:97–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Weninger B, Jöris O, Danzeglocke U (2007) CalPal–2007, Cologne radiocarbon calibration & palaeoclimate research package. Radiocarbon Laboratory, Cologne University, CologneGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Hughen KA, Baillie MGL, Bard E et al (2004) Marine04 marine radiocarbon age calibration, 0–26 cal kyr BP. Radiocarbon 46:1059–1086Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Liu Y, An Z, Linderholm HW et al (2009) Annual temperatures during the last 2485 years in the mid-eastern Tibetan Plateau inferred from tree rings. Sci China Ser D Earth Sci 52:348–359CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hong Yan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Liguang Sun
    • 1
    Email author
  • Da Shao
    • 1
  • Yuhong Wang
    • 3
  • Gangjian Wei
    • 4
  1. 1.Institute of Polar Environment, School of Earth and Space SciencesUniversity of Science and Technology of ChinaHefeiChina
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth EnvironmentChinese Academy of SciencesXi’anChina
  3. 3.Advanced Management Research CenterNingbo UniversityNingboChina
  4. 4.Guangzhou Institute of GeochemistryChinese Academy of SciencesGuangzhouChina

Personalised recommendations