Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

Past climate variability in southwestern Oregon and relationships with regional and hemispheric climate

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  • This dissertation presents the results of three studies that assessed climate variability on short and long timescales in western United States. The growth of carbonate formations in caves (speleothems) is used to infer the timing and amplitude of past climate variability. We first assess the controls on speleothem growth for the past 380 000 years by combining high-density U-Th dating with a regional climate model and an energy balance model. The majority of speleothem growth occurred overwhelmingly during interglacial periods and glacial periods were characterized by little or no growth. We assess the mechanisms responsible for growth cessation during the peak of the last glaciation (LGM), 21 000 years ago, with a regional climate model and determine that a combination of drier LGM conditions with a change in the seasonal cycle of the surface water balance provides a feedback mechanism that limited recharge to the deeper soil and reduced or eliminated drip water in the cave. The energy balance model supports this mechanism by indicating that cave temperatures did not drop below the freezing point of water at any time during the last glaciation. We then evaluate the climatic significance of stable isotopes of oxygen in rainwater collected in southwestern Oregon in order to accurately interpret the isotopic record of speleothems. We establish that temperature plays an important role in controlling the distribution of oxygen isotopes in rainwater and therefore speleothems in southwestern Oregon can preserve a record of temperature changes through time. Finally, we present a high-resolution paleoclimate record using speleothems from a cave in Oregon that grew during the last 9000 years and during the middle of the last interglaciation. We find the winter temperatures were sensitive to winter solar insolation and varied in a quasi-cyclical pattern on millennial timescales. This pattern was characteristic of both regional and hemispheric variability as indicated by similarities of our record with other regional and hemispheric climate reconstructions. It appears that higher climate variability in the past was associated with warming trends, with the implication that global warming may make the climate more unstable in the future. Climate variability during the last interglacial period was characterized by different scales of millennial and centennial climate variability compared with the Holocene.
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