Evolution of the Indian Summer Monsoon and terrestrial vegetation in the Bengal region during the past 18 ka
The Indian Summer Monsoon (ISM) is a major global climatic phenomenon. Long-term precipitation proxy records of the ISM, however, are often fragmented and discontinuous, impeding an estimation of the magnitude of precipitation variability from the Last Glacial to the present. To improve our understanding of past ISM variability, we provide a continuous reconstructed record of precipitation and continental vegetation changes from the lower Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna catchment and the Indo-Burman ranges over the last 18,000 years (18 ka). The records derive from a marine sediment core from the northern Bay of Bengal (NBoB), and are complemented by numerical model results of spatial moisture transport and precipitation distribution over the Bengal region. The isotopic composition of terrestrial plant waxes (δD and δ13C of n-alkanes) are compared to results from an isotope-enabled general atmospheric circulation model (IsoCAM) for selected time slices (pre-industrial, mid-Holocene and Heinrich Stadial 1). Comparison of proxy and model results indicate that past changes in the δD of precipitation and plant waxes were mainly driven by the amount effect, and strongly influenced by ISM rainfall. Maximum precipitation is detected for the Early Holocene Climatic Optimum (EHCO; 10.5-6 ka BP), whereas minimum precipitation occurred during the Heinrich Stadial 1 (HS1; 16.9-15.4 ka BP). The IsoCAM model results support the hypothesis of a constant moisture source (i.e. the NBoB) throughout the study period. Relative to the pre-industrial period the model reconstructions show 20% more rain during the mid-Holocene (6 ka BP) and 20% less rain during the Heinrich Stadial 1 (HS1), respectively. A shift from C4-plant dominated ecosystems during the glacial to subsequent C3/C4-mixed ones during the interglacial took place. Vegetation changes were predominantly driven by precipitation variability, as evidenced by the significant correlation between the δD and δ13C alkane records. When compared to other records across the ISM domain, precipitation and vegetation changes inferred from our records and the numerical model results provide evidence for a coherent regional variability of the ISM from the Last Glacial to the present.