Articles | Volume 13, issue 7
Clim. Past, 13, 795–818, 2017
Clim. Past, 13, 795–818, 2017

Research article 06 Jul 2017

Research article | 06 Jul 2017

Palaeoclimate characteristics in interior Siberia of MIS 6–2: first insights from the Batagay permafrost mega-thaw slump in the Yana Highlands

Kseniia Ashastina1,2, Lutz Schirrmeister3, Margret Fuchs4, and Frank Kienast1 Kseniia Ashastina et al.
  • 1Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, Research Station of Quaternary Palaeontology, Weimar, 99423, Germany
  • 2Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Institute of Systematic Botany, Jena, 07743, Germany
  • 3Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Potsdam, 14471, Germany
  • 4Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology, Freiberg, 09599, Germany

Abstract. Syngenetic permafrost deposits formed extensively on and around the arising Beringian subcontinent during the Late Pleistocene sea level lowstands. Syngenetic deposition implies that all material, both mineral and organic, freezes parallel to sedimentation and remains frozen until degradation of the permafrost. Permafrost is therefore a unique archive of Late Pleistocene palaeoclimate. Most studied permafrost outcrops are situated in the coastal lowlands of northeastern Siberia; inland sections are, however, scarcely available. Here, we describe the stratigraphical, cryolithological, and geochronological characteristics of a permafrost sequence near Batagay in the Siberian Yana Highlands, the interior of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), Russia, with focus on the Late Pleistocene Yedoma ice complex (YIC). The recently formed Batagay mega-thaw slump exposes permafrost deposits to a depth of up to 80 m and gives insight into a climate record close to Verkhoyansk, which has the most severe continental climate in the Northern Hemisphere. Geochronological dating (optically stimulated luminescence, OSL, and 14C ages) and stratigraphic implications delivered a temporal frame from the Middle Pleistocene to the Holocene for our sedimentological interpretations and also revealed interruptions in the deposition. The sequence of lithological units indicates a succession of several distinct climate phases: a Middle Pleistocene ice complex indicates cold stage climate. Then, ice wedge growth stopped due to highly increased sedimentation rates and eventually a rise in temperature. Full interglacial climate conditions existed during accumulation of an organic-rich layer – plant macrofossils reflected open forest vegetation existing under dry conditions during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5e. The Late Pleistocene YIC (MIS 4–MIS 2) suggests severe cold-stage climate conditions. No alas deposits, potentially indicating thermokarst processes, were detected at the site. A detailed comparison of the permafrost deposits exposed in the Batagay thaw slump with well-studied permafrost sequences, both coastal and inland, is made to highlight common features and differences in their formation processes and palaeoclimatic histories. Fluvial and lacustrine influence is temporarily common in the majority of permafrost exposures, but has to be excluded for the Batagay sequence. We interpret the characteristics of permafrost deposits at this location as a result of various climatically induced processes that are partly seasonally controlled. Nival deposition might have been dominant during winter time, whereas proluvial and aeolian deposition could have prevailed during the snowmelt period and the dry summer season.

Short summary
We present the first detailed description and sedimentological analyses of an 80 m permafrost sequence exposed in a mega-thaw slump near Batagay in the Yana Highlands, Russia, and attempt to deduce its genesis. First dating results (14C, OSL) show that the sequence represents a continental climate record spanning from the Middle Pleistocene to the Holocene. We suggest that the characteristics of the studied deposits are a result of various seasonally controlled climatically induced processes.