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A 1300-year microfaunal record from the Beaufort Sea shelf indicates exceptional climate-related environmental changes over the last two centuries

New publication by Falardeau J, de Vernal A, Seidenkrantz MS, Fritz M, Cronin TM, Gemery L et al.


The environments of Arctic Ocean nearshore areas experience high intra- and inter-annual variability, making it difficult to evaluate the impact of anthropogenic warming. However, a sediment record from the southern Canadian Beaufort Sea allowed us to reconstruct the impacts of climate and environmental changes over the last 1300 years along the northern Yukon coast, Canada. The coring site (PG2303; 69.513°N, 138.895°W; water depth 32 m) is located in the Herschel Basin, where high sedimentation rates (0.1–0.5 cm a−1) allowed analyses at sub-centennial to decadal resolutions. Benthic foraminiferal, ostracod, and tintinnid assemblages, as well as the stable isotope composition of the foraminifera Elphidium clavatum and Cassidulina reniforme were used as paleoclimatic and ecological indicators, while the age model was based on the combined radiometric data of 14C, 210Pb and 137Cs. From ca 700 to 1050 CE, our data suggest penetration of offshore shelf-break waters inferred by the dominance of C. reniforme followed by the relatively abundant Triloculina trihedra in the foraminiferal assemblages as both species are associated with stable saline conditions. Afterwards, the occurrence of ostracods Kotoracythere arctoborealis and Normanicythere leioderma suggests influx of Pacific-sourced waters until ca. 1150 CE. From ∼1150–1650 CE, persistent frigid waters, limited sediment supply, and low abundances of microfossils suggest cold conditions with pervasive annual sea-ice cover that may have restricted upwelling of oceanic waters. After ∼1800 CE, the co-occurrence of Tintinnopsis fimbriata and bacterial/complex organic carbon feeder foraminifera (Quinqueloculina stalkeri, Textularia earlandi and Stetsonia horvathi), suggest an increased influence of freshwater rich in particulate organic matter, which may be related to the spreading of the Mackenzie River plume and/or increased coastal permafrost erosion during longer ice-free seasons. Based on these proxy data, the shift at ∼1800 CE marks the onset of regional warming, which further intensified after ∼1955 CE, likely in response to the anthropogenic forcing.