Articles | Volume 13, issue 6
Research article
14 Jun 2017
Research article |  | 14 Jun 2017

Hydroclimate of the Last Glacial Maximum and deglaciation in southern Australia's arid margin interpreted from speleothem records (23–15 ka)

Pauline C. Treble, Andy Baker, Linda K. Ayliffe, Timothy J. Cohen, John C. Hellstrom, Michael K. Gagan, Silvia Frisia, Russell N. Drysdale, Alan D. Griffiths, and Andrea Borsato

Abstract. Terrestrial data spanning the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) and deglaciation from the southern Australian region are sparse and limited to discontinuous sedimentological and geomorphological records with relatively large chronological uncertainties. This dearth of records has hindered a critical assessment of the role of the Southern Hemisphere mid-latitude westerly winds on the region's climate during this time period. In this study, two precisely dated speleothem records for Mairs Cave, Flinders Ranges, are presented, providing for the first time a detailed terrestrial hydroclimatic record for the southern Australian drylands during 23–15 ka. Recharge to Mairs Cave is interpreted from the speleothem record by the activation of growth, physical flood layering, and δ18O and δ13C minima. Periods of lowered recharge are indicated by 18O and 13C enrichment, primarily affecting δ18O, argued to be driven by evaporation of shallow soil/epikarst water in this water-limited environment. A hydrological driver is supported by calcite fabric changes. These include the presence of laminae, visible organic colloids, and occasional dissolution features, related to recharge, as well as the presence of sediment bands representing cave floor flooding. A shift to slower-growing, more compact calcite and an absence of lamination is interpreted to represent reduced recharge.

The Mairs Cave record indicates that the Flinders Ranges were relatively wet during the LGM and early deglaciation, particularly over the interval 18.9–15.8 ka. This wetter phase ended abruptly with a shift to drier conditions at 15.8 ka. These findings are in agreement with the geomorphic archives for this region, as well as the timing of events in records from the broader Australasian region. The recharge phases identified in the Mairs Cave record are correlated with, but antiphase to, the position of the westerly winds interpreted from marine core MD03-2611, located 550 km south of Mairs Cave in the Murray Canyons region. The implication is that the mid-latitude westerlies are located further south during the period of enhanced recharge in the Mairs Cave record (18.9–16 ka) and conversely are located further north when greater aridity is interpreted in the speleothem record. A further comparison with speleothem records from the northern Australasian region reveals that the availability of tropical moisture is the most likely explanation driving enhanced recharge, with further amplification of recharge occurring during the early half of Heinrich Stadial 1 (HS1), possibly influenced by a more southerly displaced Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). A rapid transition to aridity at 15.8 ka is consistent with a retraction of this tropical moisture source.

Short summary
Little is known about the climate of southern Australia during the Last Glacial Maximum and deglaciation owing to sparse records for this region. We present the first high-resolution data, derived from speleothems that grew 23–5 ka. It appears that recharge to the Flinders Ranges was higher than today, particularly during 18.9–15.8 ka, argued to be due to the enhanced availability of tropical moisture. An abrupt shift to aridity is recorded at 15.8 ka, associated with restored westerly airflow.