A combined carbon and hydrogen isotope approach to reconstruct the SE Asian paleomonsoon – Impacts on the Angkor Civilization and links to paleolimnology

Time: May 20 2016, 13h30
Place: Nordenskiöldsalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 14, Stockholm


Supervisor: Rienk Smittenberg
Co-supervisor: Barbara Wohlfarth

Opponent: Assoc. Prof. Sarah Feakins (University of Southern California, USA)

Examining committee:
Prof. Antje Schwalb. Technical University Braunschweig, germany
Dr. Qiong Zhang, Stockholm University
Dr. Arnoud Boom, Department of Geography, University of Leicester, UK

Changes in monsoon patterns not only affect ecosystems and societies but also the global climate system in terms of heat energy and humidity transfer from the equator to higher latitudes. However, understanding the mechanisms that drive monsoon variability on longer timescales remains a challenge, partly due to sparse paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic data.
This thesis, which contributes new hydroclimate data sets for the Asian monsoon region, seeks to advance our understanding of the mechanisms that contributed to Southeast Asian summer monsoon variability in the past. Moreover, it explores how past climatic conditions may have impacted societies and ecosystems. In this study lake sediment and peat sequences from northeastern and southern Thailand have been investigated using organic geochemistry, and more specifically the stable carbon and hydrogen isotopic composition of specific biomarkers (n-alkanes, botryococcenes, and highly branched isoprenoids).
The hydrogen isotopic composition of leaf waxes (δDwax) in Thailand was shown to relate to the amount of precipitation and the extent of the El Niño Southern Oscillation. Higher values of δDwax can be interpreted as reflecting relatively dry climatic conditions, whereas lower values relate to wetter conditions.
The hydroclimate reconstruction for northeastern Thailand, based on the sedimentary record of Lake Kumphawapi, suggests higher moisture availability between ca. 10,700 cal. BP and ca. 7,000 cal. BP likely related to a strengthened early Holocene summer monsoon. Moisture availability decreased during the mid-Holocene, but seems to have increased again around 2,000 years ago and has fluctuated since. The high-resolution Lake Pa Kho peat sequence, which allows for a sub-centennial reconstruction of moisture availability, indicates that the wettest period occurred between ca. 700 and ca. 1000 CE whereas driest intervals were from ca. 50 BCE to ca. 700 CE and from ca. 1300 to ca. 1500 CE. Hydroclimate comparison of Pa Kho’s δDwax record with other paleoclimate records from the Asian-Pacific region suggests that El Niñolike conditions led to Northeastern Thailand being wetter, whereas La Niña-like conditions led to drier conditions.
Regional hydroclimate variability also greatly influenced the Angkor Civilization, which flourished between ca. 845 and ca. 1450 CE. The shift from drier to wetter conditions coincided in time with the rise of the Angkor Civilization and likely favored the intense agriculture needed to sustain the empire. The gradual decline in moisture availability, which started after ca. 1000 years CE, could have stretched the hydrological capacity of Angkor to its limit. It is suggested that Angkor’s population resorted to unconventional water sources, such as wetlands, as population growth continued, but summer monsoon rains weakened.
The 150-year long record of Lake Nong Thale Prong in southern Thailand offers insights into decadal-scale hydroclimatic changes that can be connected to the instrumental record. δDwax-based hydroclimate was drier from ~1857 to 1916 CE and ~1970 to 2010 CE and wetter from ~1916 to 1969 CE. Drier climatic conditions between ~1857 and 1916 CE coincided with oligotrophic lake waters and a dominance of the green algae Botryococcus braunii. Higher rainfall between ~1916 and 1969 CE concurred with an increase in diatom blooms while eutrophic lake water conditions were established between ~1970–2010 CE.

Keywords: Holocene, summer monsoon, biomarkers, hydrogen isotopes, lake sediment, peat, Thailand.

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