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Precise date for the Laacher See eruption synchronizes the Younger Dryas

Abstract

The Laacher See eruption (LSE) in Germany ranks among Europe’s largest volcanic events of the Upper Pleistocene1,2. Although tephra deposits of the LSE represent an important isochron for the synchronization of proxy archives at the Late Glacial to Early Holocene transition3, uncertainty in the age of the eruption has prevailed4. Here we present dendrochronological and radiocarbon measurements of subfossil trees that were buried by pyroclastic deposits that firmly date the LSE to 13,006 ± 9 calibrated years before present (bp; taken as ad 1950), which is more than a century earlier than previously accepted. The revised age of the LSE necessarily shifts the chronology of European varved lakes5,6 relative to the Greenland ice core record, thereby dating the onset of the Younger Dryas to 12,807 ± 12 calibrated years bp, which is around 130 years earlier than thought. Our results synchronize the onset of the Younger Dryas across the North Atlantic–European sector, preclude a direct link between the LSE and Greenland Stadial-1 cooling7, and suggest a large-scale common mechanism of a weakened Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation under warming conditions8,9,10.

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Fig. 1: LSE wood finds.
Fig. 2: Dendrochronological cross-dating of pre-LSE tree-ring width measurements.
Fig. 3: Dating of the LSE.
Fig. 4: Multi-proxy alignment of circum-Atlantic records.

Data availability

Data that support the findings of this study are available from the NOAA/World Data Service for Paleoclimatology data (https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/study/33194). Source data are provided with this paper.

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported by the WSL-internal project ‘LSD’ and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF Grant 200021L_157187/1). U.B. and J.E. received funding from SustES: Adaptation strategies for sustainable ecosystem services and food security under adverse environmental conditions (CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000797). M.S. received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 820047). We thank A. Hunold, H. Schaaf and B. Streubel for assistance during fieldwork, the University of Hohenheim and M. Friedrich for initial investigations during a DEKLIM-project; and D. Dahl-Jensen and P. Reimer for their constructive feedback that further improved the quality of the manuscript.

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Contributions

F.R., U.B., O.J. and L.W. designed the study with input from D.N. Tree-ring width measurements were performed by F.R., G.G. and D.N. Radiocarbon measurements and analyses were performed by G.G. and L.W., with the involvement of F.R. L.W. modelled the 14C. The paper was written by F.R., together with U.B., O.J., J.E., C.O., M.S. and L.W. Further editorial contributions were made by F.A., P.C., S.E., C.L. and A.S. Wood samples were prepared and provided by O.J., H.P., A.L. and S.R. Ice core data were provided and discussed by M.S. and F.A.

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Correspondence to Frederick Reinig.

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Peer review information Nature thanks Paula Reimer and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Temporal and spatial setting of the Laacher See eruption.

a, Climatic development of the past 15,000 years according to the NGRIP Greenland δ18O ice core record23 (blue), covering the Late Glacial and Holocene periods, shown together with the LST 40Ar/39Ar age determination13 at 12,900 ± 560 bp (mean ± 1σ; red). INTIMATE event stratigraphy23 of the Late Glacial is outlined left of the NGRIP record, with the European palaeobotanical subdivision of this period75 aligned on the right. BØ, Bølling interstadial; MEI, Meiendorf interstadial; YD, YD cold interval. Offsets between both schemes are the topic of intensive and ongoing discussion. b, Geospatial distribution of LST fallout deposits (orange dots; modified from a previously published study76) with locations of Laacher See (red triangle) and the source of the tree stems used to build the Swiss Late Glacial tree-ring and 14C records18 (green dot; SWILM-14C). The light blue line indicates the extent of the late AL Fenno-Scandinavian ice sheet (modified from a previously published study77). The map was produced using QGIS.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Examples of LSE wood finds.

a, Locations of archived (circles with black borders) and newly excavated (in 2019, circles with orange borders) subfossil wood samples within the MLST deposits in the Neuwied Basin (modified from a previously published study12). Isopachs for LST fallout are shown in red, and grey shading indicates the extent of MLST ignimbrite deposits. bf Subfossil trees from the Brohltal (1986, photograph by E. Turner) (b), from an excavated forest at Miesenheim (1986, photograph by M. Street)46 (c), from Kruft (1996, photograph by M. Baales)47 (d); from Meurin (e) and an excavation at a new locality in Miesenheim (f). Note that only the samples from Brohltahl and Meurin are included in this study, as other materials were exhausted during previous analyses or unsuitable for the performed measurements (see Methods). The map was produced using QGIS. All photographs are provided by the MONREPOS picture archive.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Reduced χ2 test results.

ah, Most likely 14C calendar placement52 of the last ring of Poplar 1 matched to SWILM-14C with an offset of 11 cal. years (yrs) (a); Poplar 1 matched to SWILM-14Cplus with an offset of 22 cal. years (b); Poplar 2 matched to SWILM-14C with an offset of 18 cal. years (c); Birch 1 matched to SWILM-14C with an offset of 36 cal. years (d); Birch 1 matched to SWILM-14Cplus with an offset of 46 cal. years (e); all pre-LSE samples matched to SWILM-14C with an offset of 20 cal. years (f); Daettnau 3 matched to SWILM-14C with an offset of 13 cal. years (g); and Poplar 1 matched to Daettnau 3 with an offset of 25 cal. years (h). Black lines denote to the 95% confidence interval.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Multi-proxy alignment of North Atlantic and European records.

a, NGRIP (grey) and Greenland Ice Sheet Project Two (GISP2) (black) oxygen isotopes (δ18O) at 20-year resolution from Greenland on the GICC05 timescale23, Alpine δ18O records from Lake Ammersee34 (yellow) and Lake Mondsee35 (red), and MFM5 (blue) varve thickness plotted as 10-year running means, dated to the MFM timescale with a LSE date of 12,880 bpMFM (±40 years; red dotted vertical line) indicating time-transgressive GS-1 and the YD cooling between 13,200 and 12,400 bpGICC05. b, The same European proxy records shifted 126 years according to the new LSE date of 13,006 cal.bp (red vertical line)28 now outlining a synchronized cooling into the GS-1 and YD across the North Atlantic. Blue shading denotes the period of strongest cooling evident in the Greenland ice core isotope records.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Non-sea-salt sulfate and particle records from polar ice cores around the time of the LSE.

a, Ice-core records of sulfate from the Greenland Ice Sheet Project Two (GISP2)78 and NGRIP69 records. b, High-resolution (1 cm depth) record of sulfate and dust68 from the NGRIP ice-core record69 between 13,015 and 12,975 bpGICC05 with three volcanic anomalies at 12,980 bpGICC05 (1), 12,982 bpGICC05 (2) and 12,994 bpGICC05 (3; see Extended Data Table 3). Black arrows indicate additional obtained sulfate peaks; the cyan bar denotes the 17-cm sampling range in which tephra shards were previously detected and characterized70 encompassing two distinct volcanic signals (1 and 2). c, Ice-core records of sulfate (calculated from sulfur measurements) from West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide (WD)74 and Dronning Maud Land (EDML)79 ice core. All ice cores are synchronized65,72,73 on the GICC05 chronology23 timescale with respect to ad 1950. Grey horizontal lines represent the accumulated age error in 13,000 bp with ±105 years for WD201474 and ±140 years for GICC0523, which has been further reduced (−12/+21 years; 2σ) based on the synchronization of tree-ring 14C and ice-core 10Be33. Red horizontal lines outline the added LSE 14C uncertainty (±9 years). Yellow dots denote the obtained bipolar sulfate anomalies.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 6 D_Sequence wiggle-matching results with OxCal.

ac, All radiocarbon (14C) modelled LSE ages obtained from Poplar 1 (a), Birch 1 (b) and Poplar 2 (c), applying the extended Swiss Late Glacial Reference (SWILM-14Cplus) point to a similar eruption date. Whereas the long-lived Poplar 1 and Birch 1 exceed the 14C plateau with the initial 14C dates, Poplar 2 provide three possible wiggle-match placements; however, under the constraint that this sample was also found within the MLST deposits, the two younger 14C results need to be excluded.

Extended Data Table 1 Pre-LSE chronology
Extended Data Table 2 Annually varved layer estimate of the YD onset relative to the LST
Extended Data Table 3 Volcanic sulfate depositions in Greenland and Antarctica around the new LSE date
Extended Data Table 4 OxCal calibration results of 14C-dated events from the Kråkenes core chronologies

Source data

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Reinig, F., Wacker, L., Jöris, O. et al. Precise date for the Laacher See eruption synchronizes the Younger Dryas. Nature 595, 66–69 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03608-x

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