Articles | Volume 12, issue 7
Research article
11 Jul 2016
Research article |  | 11 Jul 2016

Palaeoceanographic changes in Hornsund Fjord (Spitsbergen, Svalbard) over the last millennium: new insights from ancient DNA

Joanna Pawłowska, Marek Zajączkowski, Magdalena Łącka, Franck Lejzerowicz, Philippe Esling, and Jan Pawlowski

Abstract. This paper presents a reconstruction of climate-driven environmental changes over the last millennium in Hornsund Fjord (Svalbard), based on sedimentological and micropalaeontological records. Our palaeo-investigation was supported by an analysis of foraminiferal ancient DNA (aDNA), focusing on the non-fossilized monothalamous species. The main climatic fluctuations during the last millennium were the Medieval Warm Period (MWP, AD 1000–1600), the Little Ice Age (LIA, AD 1600–1900) and the modern warming (MW, AD 1900 to present). Our study indicates that the environmental conditions in Hornsund during the MWP and the early LIA (before ∼ AD 1800) were relatively stable. The beginning of the LIA (∼ AD 1600) was poorly evidenced by the micropalaeontological record but was well marked in the aDNA data by an increased proportion of monothalamous foraminifera, especially Bathysiphon sp. The early LIA (∼ 1600 to ∼ AD 1800) was marked by an increase in the abundance of sequences of Hippocrepinella hirudinea and Cedhagenia saltatus. In the late LIA (after ∼ AD 1800), the conditions in the fjord became glacier-proximal and were characterized by increased meltwater outflows, high sedimentation and a high calving rate. This coincided with an increase in the percentages of sequences of Micrometula sp. and Vellaria pellucidus. During the MW, the major glacier fronts retreated rapidly to the inner bays, which limited the iceberg discharge to the fjord's centre and caused a shift in the foraminiferal community that was reflected in both the fossil and aDNA records.

The palaeoceanographic changes in the Hornsund fjord over the last millennium were driven mainly by the inflow of shelf-originated water masses and glacial activity. However, the environmental changes were poorly evidenced in the micropalaeontological record, but they were well documented in our aDNA data. We considerably increased the number of potential proxy species by including monothalamous foraminifera in the palaeoecological studies.

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Short summary
The presented study focuses on the last millennium of the palaeoclimatic history of Svalbard region. The investigation was based on classical palaeoceanographic proxies, strengthened by the analysis of ancient foraminiferal DNA in down-core sediment samples. This study is the first attempt to implement the aDNA record in the palaeoenvironmental reconstruction. The aDNA data revealed even small environmetal changes that were not evidenced in the sedimentological and micropalaeontological record.