New insights into the Weichselian environment and climate of the East Siberian Arctic, derived from fossil insects, plants, and mammals
Multidisciplinary study of a key section on the Laptev Sea Coast (Bykovsky Peninsula, east Lena Delta) in 1998-2001 provides the most complete record of Middle and Late Weichselian environments in the East Siberian Arctic. The 40-m high Mamontovy Khayata cliff is a typical Ice Complex section built of icy silts with a network of large syngenetic polygonal ice wedges, and is richly fossiliferous. In combination with pollen, plant macrofossil and mammal fossils, a sequence of ca 70 insect samples provides a new interpretation of the environment and climate of the area between ca 50 and 12 ka. The large number of radiocarbon dates from the section, together with an extensive 14C database on mammal bones, allows chronological correlation of the various proxies. The Bykovsky record shows how climate change, and the Last Glacial Maximum in particular, affected terrestrial organisms such as insects and large grazing mammals. Both during the presumed "Karginsky Interstadial" (MIS 3) and the Sartanian Glacial (MIS 2), the vegetation remained a mosaic arctic grassland with relatively high diversity of grasses and herbs and dominance of xeric habitats: the tundra-steppe type. This biome was supported by a constantly very continental climate, caused by low sea level and enormous extension of shelf land. Variations within the broad pattern were caused mainly by fluctuations in summer temperature, related to global trends but overprinted by the effect of continentality. No major changes in humidity were observed nor were advances of modern-type forest or forest-tundra recorded, suggesting a major revision of the "Karginsky Interstadial" paradigm. The changing subtypes of the tundra-steppe environment were persistently favourable for mammalian grazers, which inhabited the shelf lowlands throughout the studied period. Mammal population numbers were lowered during the LGM, especially toward its end, and then flourished in a short, but impressive peak in the latest Weichselian, just before the collapse of the tundra-steppe biome. Throughout MIS 3 and MIS 2, the climate remained very favourable for the aggradation of permafrost. No events of regional permafrost degradation were observed in the continuous Bykovsky sequence until the very end of the Pleistocene.