A sub-centennial, Little Ice Age climate reconstruction using beetle subfossil data from Nunalleq, southwestern Alaska

Véronique Forbes (Corresponding Author), Paul M. Ledger, Denisa Cretu, Scott Elias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

There is myriad evidence that global warming is exerting a profoundly disruptive influence on the lifeways of modern native (Yup'ik) communities living in the Yukon-Kuskokwim (Y-K) delta of southwestern Alaska. Yup'ik subsistence is intimately tied to seasonal change and the ability to accurately predict the availability of plant and animal resources. It therefore seems reasonable to suggest that periods of climatic instability such as the Little Ice Age (LIA) may have had a deleterious effect on Yup'ik communities in the past. However, at present there are no palaeotemperature records that document the localised climatic changes of the last millennium in the Y-K Delta region. This lack of data hinders our understanding of the archaeological record from the site of Nunalleq, situated at the heart of the delta and was occupied during the LIA. To address this oversight, this paper presents the results of a Coleoptera (beetle) based climate reconstruction from a peat profile in the vicinity of Nunalleq to investigate the magnitude of Late Holocene climatic changes. Using the Mutual Climatic Range (MCR) method, we reconstruct mean summer and winter temperatures from the mid-15th to late-19th centuries. The results indicate that the past environments of Nunalleq were characterised by a climate significantly cooler than the present. The earliest definitive evidence for Little Ice Age cooling dates from the late 16th century, when mean summer temperatures were at least 1.2ᵒC below the modern mean. Temperatures appear to have remained lower than modern until the early 19th century. The coolest Nunalleq record – 1.3ᵒC below the modern mean summer temperatures – is centred on AD 1815, after which there is evidence for climatic amelioration. These data present differences with observations from other regions of Alaska and underline the importance of more local palaeoclimate reconstructions, particularly when interrogating the relationships between past climatic and social change.
Original languageEnglish
JournalQuaternary International
Early online date8 Jul 2019
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Jul 2019

Fingerprint

subfossil
Little Ice Age
beetle
climate
climate change
summer
temperature
paleotemperature
social change
subsistence
paleoclimate
peat
global warming
remediation
Holocene
cooling
winter

Keywords

  • Palaeoclimate
  • Coleoptera
  • Mutual climatic range
  • Little ice age
  • Alaska
  • Yup'Ik
  • Yup'ik

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes

Cite this

A sub-centennial, Little Ice Age climate reconstruction using beetle subfossil data from Nunalleq, southwestern Alaska. / Forbes, Véronique (Corresponding Author); Ledger, Paul M.; Cretu, Denisa; Elias, Scott.

In: Quaternary International, 08.07.2019.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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title = "A sub-centennial, Little Ice Age climate reconstruction using beetle subfossil data from Nunalleq, southwestern Alaska",
abstract = "There is myriad evidence that global warming is exerting a profoundly disruptive influence on the lifeways of modern native (Yup'ik) communities living in the Yukon-Kuskokwim (Y-K) delta of southwestern Alaska. Yup'ik subsistence is intimately tied to seasonal change and the ability to accurately predict the availability of plant and animal resources. It therefore seems reasonable to suggest that periods of climatic instability such as the Little Ice Age (LIA) may have had a deleterious effect on Yup'ik communities in the past. However, at present there are no palaeotemperature records that document the localised climatic changes of the last millennium in the Y-K Delta region. This lack of data hinders our understanding of the archaeological record from the site of Nunalleq, situated at the heart of the delta and was occupied during the LIA. To address this oversight, this paper presents the results of a Coleoptera (beetle) based climate reconstruction from a peat profile in the vicinity of Nunalleq to investigate the magnitude of Late Holocene climatic changes. Using the Mutual Climatic Range (MCR) method, we reconstruct mean summer and winter temperatures from the mid-15th to late-19th centuries. The results indicate that the past environments of Nunalleq were characterised by a climate significantly cooler than the present. The earliest definitive evidence for Little Ice Age cooling dates from the late 16th century, when mean summer temperatures were at least 1.2ᵒC below the modern mean. Temperatures appear to have remained lower than modern until the early 19th century. The coolest Nunalleq record – 1.3ᵒC below the modern mean summer temperatures – is centred on AD 1815, after which there is evidence for climatic amelioration. These data present differences with observations from other regions of Alaska and underline the importance of more local palaeoclimate reconstructions, particularly when interrogating the relationships between past climatic and social change.",
keywords = "Palaeoclimate, Coleoptera, Mutual climatic range, Little ice age, Alaska, Yup'Ik, Yup'ik",
author = "V{\'e}ronique Forbes and Ledger, {Paul M.} and Denisa Cretu and Scott Elias",
note = "This research was funded through an Arts and Humanities Research Council grant (AH/K006029/1) awarded to Drs. Rick Knecht, Charlotta Hillerdal and Kate Britton, the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 703322, and two NERC Radiocarbon Facility grants (NF/2015/1/6 and NF/2015/2/3) awarded to Drs. Rick Knecht and Paul Ledger. Our work at Nunalleq also benefitted from the support of the local community who made us all feel at home in Quinhagak and provided consistently warm hospitality. Logistical support from Warren Jones and Qanirtuuq Incorporated was also invaluable. VF would like to thank Anthony Davies for his invaluable help with the identification of Stenus species and for verifying her identification of other staphylinid taxa. Patrice Bouchard, Yves Bousquet, Henri Goulet and Aleš Smetana are also thanked for help provided with beetle identifications, as well as Professor Ian Foster, for kindly providing Pb210 dating support. Finally, we would like to thank Peter Jordan for the opportunity to publish in this special issue, as well as Philippe Ponel and an anonymous reviewer, whose comments helped us improve the original manuscript.",
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N1 - This research was funded through an Arts and Humanities Research Council grant (AH/K006029/1) awarded to Drs. Rick Knecht, Charlotta Hillerdal and Kate Britton, the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 703322, and two NERC Radiocarbon Facility grants (NF/2015/1/6 and NF/2015/2/3) awarded to Drs. Rick Knecht and Paul Ledger. Our work at Nunalleq also benefitted from the support of the local community who made us all feel at home in Quinhagak and provided consistently warm hospitality. Logistical support from Warren Jones and Qanirtuuq Incorporated was also invaluable. VF would like to thank Anthony Davies for his invaluable help with the identification of Stenus species and for verifying her identification of other staphylinid taxa. Patrice Bouchard, Yves Bousquet, Henri Goulet and Aleš Smetana are also thanked for help provided with beetle identifications, as well as Professor Ian Foster, for kindly providing Pb210 dating support. Finally, we would like to thank Peter Jordan for the opportunity to publish in this special issue, as well as Philippe Ponel and an anonymous reviewer, whose comments helped us improve the original manuscript.

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