How dry was the Younger Dryas? Evidence from a coupled δ2H– δ18O biomarker paleohygrometer applied to the Gemündener Maar sediments, Western Eifel, Germany

Hepp, Johannes; Wüthrich, Lorenz; Bromm, Tobias; Bliedtner, Marcel; Schäfer, Imke Kathrin; Glaser, Bruno; Rozanski, Kazimierz; Sirocko, Frank; Zech, Roland; Zech, Michael

Causes of the Late Glacial to Early Holocene transition phase and particularly the Younger Dryas period, i.e. the major last cold spell in central Europe during the Late Glacial, are considered to be keys for understanding rapid natural climate change in the past. The sediments from maar lakes in the Eifel, Germany, have turned out to be valuable archives for recording such paleoenvironmental changes.

For this study, we investigated a Late Glacial to Early Holocene sediment core that was retrieved from the Gemündener Maar in the Western Eifel, Germany. We analysed the hydrogen (inline-formulaδ2H) and oxygen (inline-formulaδ18O) stable isotope composition of leaf-wax-derived lipid biomarkers (inline-formulan-alkanes inline-formulaC27 and inline-formulaC29) and a hemicellulose-derived sugar biomarker (arabinose), respectively. Both inline-formulaδ2Hn-alkane and inline-formulaδ18Osugar are suggested to reflect mainly leaf water of vegetation growing in the catchment of the Gemündener Maar. Leaf water reflects inline-formulaδ2H and inline-formulaδ18O of precipitation (primarily temperature-dependent) modified by evapotranspirative enrichment of leaf water due to transpiration. Based on the notion that the evapotranspirative enrichment depends primarily on relative humidity (RH), we apply a previously introduced “coupled inline-formulaδ2Hn-alkaneinline-formulaδ18Osugar paleohygrometer approach” to reconstruct the deuterium excess of leaf water and in turn Late Glacial–Early Holocene RH changes from our Gemündener Maar record.

Our results do not provide evidence for overall markedly dry climatic conditions having prevailed during the Younger Dryas. Rather, a two-phasing of the Younger Dryas is supported, with moderate wet conditions at the Allerød level during the first half and drier conditions during the second half of the Younger Dryas. Moreover, our results suggest that the amplitude of RH changes during the Early Holocene waspage714 more pronounced than during the Younger Dryas. This included the occurrence of a “Preboreal Humid Phase”. One possible explanation for this unexpected finding could be that solar activity is a hitherto underestimated driver of central European RH changes in the past.



Hepp, Johannes / Wüthrich, Lorenz / Bromm, Tobias / et al: How dry was the Younger Dryas? Evidence from a coupled δ2H–δ18O biomarker paleohygrometer applied to the Gemündener Maar sediments, Western Eifel, Germany. 2019. Copernicus Publications.


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