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Geophysical Monograph Series



  • paleoclimate
  • Indian Monsoon
  • isotope geochemistry
  • civilizations
  • Harappan
  • hydrology

Index Terms

  • 1605 Global Change: Abrupt/rapid climate change
  • 1041 Geochemistry: Stable isotope geochemistry
  • 0429 Biogeosciences: Climate dynamics
  • 0426 Biogeosciences: Biosphere/atmosphere interactions



An Abrupt Shift in the Indian Monsoon 4000 Years Ago

M. Berkelhammer

Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA

A. Sinha

Department of Earth Sciences, California State University, Dominguez Hills, Carson, California, USA

L. Stott

Department of Earth Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA

H. Cheng

F. S. R. Pausata

K. Yoshimura

The emergence of high-resolution proxy records from the Asian monsoon region suggests that the monsoon system is bistable and can abruptly transition between a suppressed and active state. This observation is critical in considering how the monsoon system may have influenced the development of societies across South and East Asia during the Holocene. Using a new high-resolution (∼5 years/sample) speleothem stable isotope record from northeast India that spans the early and mid-Holocene, a number of abrupt changes in the oxygen isotopic composition of precipitation (δ18Op) are documented. The most dramatic of these events occurred ∼4000 years ago when, over the course of approximately a decade, isotopic values abruptly rose above any seen during the early to mid-Holocene and remained at this anomalous state for almost two centuries. This event occurs nearly synchronously with climatic changes documented in a number of proxy records across North Africa, the Middle East, the Tibetan Plateau, southern Europe, and North America. We hypothesize that the excursion could represent a shift toward an earlier Indian Summer Monsoon withdrawal or a general decline in the total amount of monsoon precipitation. The new record provides a very significant advance with respect to age control and sample resolution of terrestrial climate change over South Asia during this period when a number of major societal changes occurred. While evidence of a causal relationship between climate and the reorganization of the Indus Valley and Old Kingdom Nile civilizations is beyond the scope of this study, the tight age constraints of the record show with a high degree of certainty that much of the documented deurbanization of the Indus Valley at 3.9 kyr B.P. occurred after multiple decades of a shift in the monsoon's character but before the monsoon returned to its previous mid-Holocene state.

Citation: Berkelhammer, M., A. Sinha, L. Stott, H. Cheng, F. S. R. Pausata, and K. Yoshimura (2012), An abrupt shift in the Indian monsoon 4000 years ago, in Climates, Landscapes, and Civilizations, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., vol. 198, edited by L. Giosan et al., 75–87, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/2012GM001207.


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