Articles | Volume 11, issue 5
Clim. Past, 11, 709–741, 2015

Special issue: Past environmental and climatic stress during modern human's...

Clim. Past, 11, 709–741, 2015

Research article 07 May 2015

Research article | 07 May 2015

Non-linear regime shifts in Holocene Asian monsoon variability: potential impacts on cultural change and migratory patterns

J. F. Donges1,2, R. V. Donner1,3, N. Marwan1, S. F. M. Breitenbach4,*, K. Rehfeld1,5, and J. Kurths1,6,7 J. F. Donges et al.
  • 1Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Telegrafenberg A31, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
  • 2Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B, 114 19 Stockholm, Sweden
  • 3Department of Biogeochemical Integration, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Hans-Knöll-Str. 10, 07745 Jena, Germany
  • 4Institute for Geology, Mineralogy and Geophysics, Ruhr University Bochum, Universitätsstr. 150, 44801 Bochum, Germany
  • 5Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Telegrafenberg A43, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
  • 6Department of Physics, Humboldt University, Newtonstr. 15, 12489 Berlin, Germany
  • 7Institute for Complex Systems and Mathematical Biology, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, AB24 3FX, UK
  • *formerly at: Geological Institute, Department of Earth Sciences, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. The Asian monsoon system is an important tipping element in Earth's climate with a large impact on human societies in the past and present. In light of the potentially severe impacts of present and future anthropogenic climate change on Asian hydrology, it is vital to understand the forcing mechanisms of past climatic regime shifts in the Asian monsoon domain. Here we use novel recurrence network analysis techniques for detecting episodes with pronounced non-linear changes in Holocene Asian monsoon dynamics recorded in speleothems from caves distributed throughout the major branches of the Asian monsoon system. A newly developed multi-proxy methodology explicitly considers dating uncertainties with the COPRA (COnstructing Proxy Records from Age models) approach and allows for detection of continental-scale regime shifts in the complexity of monsoon dynamics. Several epochs are characterised by non-linear regime shifts in Asian monsoon variability, including the periods around 8.5–7.9, 5.7–5.0, 4.1–3.7, and 3.0–2.4 ka BP. The timing of these regime shifts is consistent with known episodes of Holocene rapid climate change (RCC) and high-latitude Bond events. Additionally, we observe a previously rarely reported non-linear regime shift around 7.3 ka BP, a timing that matches the typical 1.0–1.5 ky return intervals of Bond events. A detailed review of previously suggested links between Holocene climatic changes in the Asian monsoon domain and the archaeological record indicates that, in addition to previously considered longer-term changes in mean monsoon intensity and other climatic parameters, regime shifts in monsoon complexity might have played an important role as drivers of migration, pronounced cultural changes, and the collapse of ancient human societies.

Short summary
Paleoclimate records from cave deposits allow the reconstruction of Holocene dynamics of the Asian monsoon system, an important tipping element in Earth's climate. Employing recently developed techniques of nonlinear time series analysis reveals several robust and continental-scale regime shifts in the complexity of monsoonal variability. These regime shifts might have played an important role as drivers of migration, cultural change, and societal collapse during the past 10,000 years.