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Buried pine trees offer clues on ancient climate change in the Mediterranean

"We lack experience on what exactly happens during a sudden climate change, how quickly the climate can change, and what regional differences occur," researcher Achim Brauer said.

By
Brooks Hays
Researchers executed dozens of ancient pine trees killed by harsh winter weather several thousand years ago. Photo by Cécile Miramont/Aix-Marseille University
Researchers executed dozens of ancient pine trees killed by harsh winter weather several thousand years ago. Photo by Cécile Miramont/Aix-Marseille University

Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Scientists have discovered evidence of ancient climate change beneath the base of Mont Saint Genis in Southern France. A buried pine forest has provided scientists insights into a sudden and extreme cold snap 12,900 years ago.

During the so-called Allerød oscillation, a period lasting from 13,900 to 12,900 years ago, Europe was warm and wet. But surveys of sediment and ice cores suggest the climate quickly cooled beginning 12,900 years ago, making way for the Younger Dryas period.

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According to the latest research, fossil pines recovered from a French river valley have offered scientists unique insights into the transition from warm to cool.

Scientists used traditional tree-ring width measurements, as well as isotopic analysis, to estimate precipitation and humidity during the transition period. Researchers found evidence of encroaching North Atlantic air masses at the beginning of the climatic shift.

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"We were surprised that about sixty years before the actual climate change, a significant alteration in the precipitation source was recognized," Maren Pauly, researcher at the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences in Potsdam, said in a news release.

Isotopic analysis showed precipitation from the Mediterranean declined during the period. An increase in humid air from the north brought cold temperatures and intense winter storms.

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"Especially striking is the increase of extreme polar air surges, winter precipitation and winter storms at the beginning of the Younger Dryas," said GFZ researcher Achim Brauer.

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The study's findings -- published this week in the journal Scientific Reports -- suggest the ancient pines were able to survive the sudden temperature change, but were ultimately done-in by the harsh winter weather.

Scientists hope their work proves useful to researchers as they continue to look to the past for evidence of how extremely climate change might effect Earth's ecosystems and weather patterns in the future.

"We lack experience on what exactly happens during a sudden climate change, how quickly the climate can change, and what regional differences occur," Brauer said. "Here, paleoclimate research shows how it can close knowledge gaps with information from natural climate archives."

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