Cryogenic cave carbonates in the Dolomites (northern Italy): insights into Younger Dryas cooling and seasonal precipitation

Koltai, Gabriella; Spötl, Christoph; Jarosch, Alexander H.; Cheng, Hai

In the European Alps, the Younger Dryas (YD) was characterised by the last major glacier advance, with equilibrium line altitudes being inline-formula∼ 220 to 290 m lower than during the Little Ice Age, and also by the development of rock glaciers. Dating of these geomorphic features, however, is associated with substantial uncertainties, leading to considerable ambiguities regarding the internal structure of this stadial, which is the most intensively studied one of the last glacial period. Here, we provide robust physical evidence based on inline-formula230Th-dated cryogenic cave carbonates (CCCs) from a cave located at 2274 m a.s.l. in the Dolomites of northern Italy coupled with thermal modelling, indicating that early YD winters were only moderately cold in this part of the Alps. More precisely, we find that the mean annual air temperature dropped inline-formula≤ 3 inline-formulaC at the Allerød–YD transition. Our data suggest that autumns and early winters in the early part of the YD were relatively snow-rich, resulting in stable winter snow cover. The latter insulated the shallow subsurface in winter and allowed the cave interior to remain close to the freezing point (0 inline-formulaC) year-round, promoting CCC formation. The main phase of CCC precipitation at inline-formula∼ 12.2 ka coincided with the mid-YD transition recorded in other archives across Europe. Based on thermal modelling we propose that CCC formation at inline-formula∼ 12.2 ka was most likely associated with a slight warming of approximately inline-formula+1 inline-formulaC in conjunction with drier autumns and early winters in the second half of the YD. These changes triggered CCC formation in this Alpine cave as well as ice glacier retreat and rock glacier expansion across the Alps.

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Koltai, Gabriella / Spötl, Christoph / Jarosch, Alexander H. / et al: Cryogenic cave carbonates in the Dolomites (northern Italy): insights into Younger Dryas cooling and seasonal precipitation. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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