Glacial and deglacial climatic patterns in Australia and surrounding regions from 35 000 to 10 000 years ago reconstructed from terrestrial and near-shore proxy data

Martin Williams*, Ellyn Cook, Sander van der Kaars, Tim Barrows, Jamie Shulmeister, Peter Kershaw

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This study forms part of a wider investigation of late Quaternary environments in the Southern Hemisphere. We here review the terrestrial and near-shore proxy data from Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea (PNG), New Zealand and surrounding oceans during 35-10 ka, an interval spanning the lead-up to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), the LGM proper (21 ± 2 ka), and the ensuing deglaciation. Sites selected for detailed discussion have a continuous or near continuous sedimentary record for this time interval, a stratigraphically consistent chronology, and one or more sources of proxy climatic data. Tropical Australia, Indonesia and PNG had LGM mean annual temperatures 3-7 °C below present values and summer precipitation reduced by at least 30%, consistent with a weaker summer monsoon and a northward displacement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone. The summer monsoon was re-established in northwest Australia by 14 ka. Precipitation in northeast Australia was reduced to less than 50% of present values until warmer and wetter conditions resumed at 17-16 ka, followed by a second warmer, wetter phase at 15-14 ka. LGM temperatures were up to 8 °C lower than today in mainland southeast Australia and up to 4 °C cooler in Tasmania. Winter rainfall was much reduced throughout much of southern Australia although periodic extreme flood events are evident in the fluvial record. Glacial advances in southeast Australia are dated to 32 ± 2.5, 19.1 ± 1.6 and 16.8 ± 1.4 ka, with periglacial activity concentrated towards 23-16 ka. Deglaciation was rapid in the Snowy Mountains, which were ice-free by 15.8 ka. Minimum effective precipitation in southern Australia was from 14 to 12 ka. In New Zealand the glacial advances date to ∼28, 21.5 and 19 ka, with the onset of major cooling at ∼28 ka, or well before the LGM. There is no convincing evidence for a Younger Dryas cooling event in or around New Zealand, but there are signs of the Antarctic Cold Reversal in and around New Zealand and off southern Australia. There remain unresolved discrepancies between the climates inferred from pollen and those inferred from the beetle and chironomid fauna at a number of New Zealand sites. One explanation may be that pollen provides a generalised regional climatic signal in contrast to the finer local resolution offered by beetles and chironomids. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) were up to 5 °C cooler during the LGM with rapid warming after 20 ka to attain present values by 15 ka. The increase in summer monsoonal precipitation at or before 15 ka reflects higher insolation, warmer SSTs and steeper thermal gradients between land and sea. The postglacial increase in winter rainfall in southern Australia is probably related to the southward displacement of the westerlies as SSTs around Antarctica became warmer and the winter pack ice and Antarctic Convergence Zone retreated to the south.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2398-2419
    Number of pages22
    JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
    Issue number23-24
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2009


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