Glacial to Holocene climate changes in the SE Pacific. The Raraku Lake sedimentary record (Easter Island, 27°S)

Sáez A, Valero-Garcés BL., Giralt S, Moreno A, Bao R, Pueyo JJ, Hernández A, Casas D
Quaternary Science Reviews 28, 2743-2759

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Easter Island (SE Pacific, 27°S) provides a unique opportunity to reconstruct past climate changes in the South Pacific region based on terrestrial archives. Although the general climate evolution of the south Pacific since the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) is coherent with terrestrial records in southern South America and Polynesia, the details of the dynamics of the shifting Westerlies, the South Pacific Convergence Zone and the South Pacific Anticyclone during the glacial-interglacial transition and the Holocene, and the large scale controls on precipitation in tropical and extratropical regions remain elusive. Here we present a high-resolution reconstruction of lake dynamics, watershed processes and paleohydrology for the last 34 000 cal yrs BP based on a sedimentological and geochemical multiproxy study of 8 cores from the Raraku Lake sediments constrained by 22 AMS radiocarbon dates. This multicore strategy has reconstructed the sedimentary architecture of the lake infilling and provided a stratigraphic framework to integrate and correlate previous core and vegetation studies conducted in the lake. High lake levels and clastic input dominated sedimentation in Raraku Lake between 34 and 28 cal kyr BP. Sedimentological and geochemical evidences support previously reported pollen data showing a relatively open forest and a cold and relatively humid climate during the Glacial period. Between 28 and 17.3 cal kyr BP, including the LGM period, colder conditions contributed to a reduction of the tree coverage in the island. The coherent climate patterns in subtropical and mid latitudes of Chile and Eastern Island for the LGM (more humid conditions) suggest stronger influence of the Antarctic circumpolar current and an enhancement of the Westerlies. The end of Glacial Period occurred at 17.3 cal kyr BP and was characterized by a sharp decrease in lake level conducive to the development of major flood events and erosion of littoral sediments. Deglaciation (Termination 1) between 17.3 and 12.5 cal kyr BP was characterized by an increase in lake productivity, a decrease in the terrigenous input and a rapid lake level recovery, inaugurating a period of intermediate lake levels, dominance of organic deposition and algal lamination. The timing and duration of deglaciation events in Easter Island broadly agree with other mid- and low-latitude circum South Pacific terrestrial records. The transition to the Holocene was characterized by lower lake levels. The lake level dropped during the early Holocene (ca 9.5 cal kyr BP) and swamp and shallow lake conditions dominated till mid Holocene, partially favored by the infilling of the lacustrine basin. During the mid- to late-Holocene drought phases led to periods of persistent low water table, subaerial exposure and erosion, generating a sedimentary hiatus in the Raraku sequence, from 4.2 to 0.8 cal kyr BP. The presence of this dry mid Holocene phase, also identified in low Andean latitudes and in Patagonian mid latitudes, suggests that the shift of storm tracks caused by changes in the austral summer insolation or forced by ‘‘El Nin˜ o-like’’ dominant conditions have occurred at a regional scale. The palm deforestation of the Easter Island, attributed to the human impact could have started earlier, during the 4.2–0.8 cal kyr BP sedimentary gap. Our paleoclimatic data provides insights about the climate scenarios that could favor the arrival of the Polynesian people to the island. If it occurred at ca AD 800 it coincided with the warmer conditions of the Medieval Climate Anomaly, whereas if it took place at ca AD 1300 it was favored by enhanced westerlies at the onset of the Little Ice Age. Changes in land uses (farming, intensive cattle) during the last century had a large impact in the hydrology and limnology (eutrophication) of the lake.