A Sedimentological Multi-Proxy Study of Late Holocene Climate Change in Southern Patagonia

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Emma Carolina Hutchinson, Sverre L Leroy and Robert B Dunbar, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States
The southern hemisphere westerlies force and respond to circulation and heat exchange with the Southern Ocean, which in turn plays a large role in global climate change. Southern Patagonia is the only significant land mass in the path of the southern westerlies, so it is an ideal location to examine variability of this wind system and its relation to regional and global climate. Precipitation and wind strength exhibit a strong positive correlation, and we take advantage of this relationship to use a paleoclimate archive to probe past changes in the wind field. We examined a 3.6m long sediment core from Lago Sarmiento (51.06˚S, 72.91˚W) in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, for indicators of past environmental change. Here we present a high resolution, multi-proxy record of regional paleoclimate that includes physical, biological, and chemical data sets. We measured magnetic susceptibility, weight percent organic carbon and nitrogen, δ13C of bulk sediment, and weight percent carbonate of the core. These results provide information about precipitation, relative wind strength, volcanic activity, and biological productivity in and around Lago Sarmiento over the past 4,000 years. Our age model for the core is based in part on tephrochronology. We identified three tephras, or volcanic ashes, in the core at 68-71, 110-112, and 284-286cm that are supported visually and with magnetic susceptibility measurements. Analysis of the C:N ratio of the Lago Sarmiento core demonstrates a long-term increase in the deposition of terrestrial organic matter in Lago Sarmiento over time, perhaps indicating a change from grassland to woodland due to increased precipitation. The largest excursions in the C:N ratio occur at 20, 53, 139-140, 225-226, and 252cm. The average δ13C of organic carbon is -24.81, and large decreases occur at 9, 45, 180, 245-246, and 252-253cm, which could indicate overturning events in the lake. The average weight percent carbonate is 18%, with large decreases at 69-70, 98-111, 284-285, and 334-337cm, which we interpret as decreases in lake productivity. These results encompass new knowledge about the paleoclimate patterns in and around Lago Sarmiento and have significant implications for climate change, human health, and environmental policy.