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Climatic and environmental change in the western Tibetan Plateau during the Holocene, recorded by lake sediments from Aweng Co

Zhang, Yuzhi; Zhang, Jiawu; McGowan, Suzanne; Metcalfe, Sarah; Jones, Matthew; Leng, Melanie J.; Hou, Juzhi

Climatic and environmental change in the western Tibetan Plateau during the Holocene, recorded by lake sediments from Aweng Co Thumbnail


Yuzhi Zhang

Jiawu Zhang

Suzanne McGowan

Professor of Quaternary Science

Juzhi Hou


Understanding the strength and extent of the Asian summer monsoon (including the East Asian summer monsoon and the Indian summer monsoon) in the Tibetan Plateau (TP) region is crucial for predicting possible changes in the regional eco-environment and water resources under global warming. Due to the lack of well-dated and high-resolution paleoclimate records, long-term monsoon dynamics are still not well understood in the western TP, which is currently influenced by both the Indian summer monsoon (ISM) and the westerlies. Here we present a multi-proxy lacustrine record covering the past 10,500 years from Aweng Co, an alpine lake at the northern limit of the modern ASM in western Tibet. Our results show that the western TP was mainly controlled by the ISM during the Holocene and the regional ecosystem/environment was sensitive to climate change. The climate was the wettest between 10.5 and 7.3 cal kyr BP, when terrestrial plants in the catchment were productive and the biomass of benthic algae was low possibly due to limited sunlight at the lake bottom due to high lake level. From 7.3 to 5.0 cal kyr BP the climate shifted towards drier conditions, resulting in a decline in terrestrial plant cover. Between 5.0 and 3.1 cal kyr BP, the climate became even drier, resulting in a further decline in vegetation cover in the catchment. Between 4.6 and 3.1 cal kyr BP, 100% endogenic dolomite precipitated from the lake water, possibly induced by high Mg/Ca ratios. After 3.1 cal kyr BP, the climate was the driest and frequent centennial-scale droughts occurred. The lake level was low and would have resulted in more light reaching the lake bottom, favoring the growth of benthic algae. The reconstructed lake level change of Aweng Co agrees well with the paleo-shoreline records in the southern TP, demonstrating that the ISM evolution played a key role in lake hydrological processes in this region. A comparison of paleoclimate records shows the ISM reached 34.5° N in the western TP during the Holocene.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 5, 2021
Online Publication Date Mar 27, 2021
Publication Date May 1, 2021
Deposit Date Apr 9, 2021
Publicly Available Date Mar 28, 2022
Journal Quaternary Science Reviews
Print ISSN 0277-3791
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 259
Article Number 106889
Keywords Archaeology; Archaeology; Global and Planetary Change; Geology; Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Public URL
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