Significance of uncertain phasing between the onsets of stadial-interstadial transitions in different Greenland ice core proxies

Keno Riechers, Niklas Boers

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2 Scopus citations


Different paleoclimate proxy records evidence repeated abrupt climate transitions during previous glacial intervals. These transitions are thought to comprise abrupt warming and increase in local precipitation over Greenland, sudden reorganization of the Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation, and retreat of sea ice in the North Atlantic. The physical mechanism underlying these so-called Dansgaard-Oeschger (DO) events remains debated. A recent analysis of Greenland ice core proxy records found that transitions in Na+ concentrations and 18O values are delayed by about 1 decade with respect to corresponding transitions in Ca2+ concentrations and in the annual layer thickness during DO events. These delays are interpreted as a temporal lag of sea-ice retreat and Greenland warming with respect to a synoptic-And hemispheric-scale atmospheric reorganization at the onset of DO events and may thereby help constrain possible triggering mechanisms for the DO events. However, the explanatory power of these results is limited by the uncertainty of the transition onset detection in noisy proxy records. Here, we extend previous work by testing the significance of the reported lags with respect to the null hypothesis that the proposed transition order is in fact not systematically favored. If the detection uncertainties are averaged out, the temporal delays in the 18O and Na+ transitions with respect to their counterparts in Ca2+ and the annual layer thickness are indeed pairwise statistically significant. In contrast, under rigorous propagation of uncertainty, three statistical tests cannot provide evidence against the null hypothesis. We thus confirm the previously reported tendency of delayed transitions in the 18O and Na+ concentration records. Yet, given the uncertainties in the determination of the transition onsets, it cannot be decided whether these tendencies are truly the imprint of a prescribed transition order or whether they are due to chance. The analyzed set of DO transitions can therefore not serve as evidence for systematic lead-lag relationships between the transitions in the different proxies, which in turn limits the power of the observed tendencies to constrain possible physical causes of the DO events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1751-1775
Number of pages25
JournalClimate of the Past
Issue number4
StatePublished - 26 Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


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