Global patterns of vegetation response to millennial-scale variability and rapid climate change during the last glacial period

S. P. Harrison*, M. F. Sanchez Goñi

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    112 Citations (Scopus)


    Ninety-four sites worldwide have sufficient resolution and dating to document the impact of millennial-scale climate variability on vegetation and fire regimes during the last glacial period. Although Dansgaard-Oeschger (D-O) cycles all show a basically similar gross structure, they vary in the magnitude and the length of the warm and cool intervals. We illustrate the geographic patterns in the climate-induced changes in vegetation by comparing D-O 6, D-O 8 and D-O 19. There is a strong response to both D-O warming events and subsequent cooling, most marked in the northern extratropics. Pollen records from marine cores from the northern extratropics confirm that there is no lag between the change in climate and the vegetation response, within the limits of the dating resolution (50-100 years). However, the magnitude of the change in vegetation is regionally specific and is not a simple function of either the magnitude or the duration of the change in climate as registered in Greenland ice cores. Fire regimes also show an initial immediate response to climate changes, but during cooling intervals there is a slow recovery of biomass burning after the initial reduction, suggesting a secondary control through the recovery of vegetation productivity. In the extratropics, vegetation changes are largely determined by winter temperatures while in the tropics they are largely determined by changes in plant-available water. Tropical vegetation records show changes corresponding to Heinrich Stadials but the response to D-O warming events is less marked than in the northern extratropics. There are very few high-resolution records from the Southern Hemisphere extratropics, but these records also show both a vegetation and fire response to millennial-scale climate variability. It is not yet possible to determine unequivocally whether terrestrial records reflect the asynchroneity apparent in the ice-core records.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2957-2980
    Number of pages24
    JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
    Issue number21-22
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010


    Dive into the research topics of 'Global patterns of vegetation response to millennial-scale variability and rapid climate change during the last glacial period'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this