Paleolimnological evidence of the response of the central Canadian treeline zone to radiative forcing and hemispheric patterns of temperature change over the past 2000 years

Glen M. MacDonald, David F. Porinchu, Nicolas Rolland, Konstantine V. Kremenetsky, Darrell S. Kaufman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Instrumental climate records from the central Canadian treeline zone display a pattern of variation similar to general Northern Hemisphere temperature trends. To examine whether this general correspondence extends back beyond the instrumental record, we obtained a sediment core from Lake S41, a small lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada at 63°43.11′ N, 109°19.07′ W. A radiocarbon-based chronology was developed for the core. The sediments were analyzed for organic-matter content by loss-on-ignition (LOI), biogenic-silica content (BSi), and chironomid community composition to reconstruct July air temperature and summer water temperature. The paleolimnological records were compared with records of atmospheric CO 2 concentration, solar variability, and hemispheric temperature variations over the past 2000 years. The results of the analyses suggest that widely-documented long-term variations in Northern Hemisphere temperature associated with radiative forcing, namely the cooling following the medieval period during the Little Ice Age (LIA), and twentieth century warming, are represented in the central Canadian treeline zone. There is also evidence of a brief episode of warming during the eighteenth century. As evidenced by LOI and BSi, the twentieth century warming is typified by increased lake productivity relative to the LIA. Depending upon the measure, the increased productivity of the twentieth century nearly equals or exceeds that of any other period in the past 2000 years. In contrast, the rate of chironomid head capsule accumulation decreased and remained low during the twentieth century. Although the chironomid-inferred temperature reconstructions indicate cooling during the LIA, they present no evidence of greatly increased temperatures during the twentieth century. Warming during the twentieth century might have enhanced lake stratification, and the response of the chironomid fauna to warming was attenuated by decreased oxygen and lower temperatures in the hypolimnion of the more stratification-prone lake.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-141
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009


  • Arctic
  • Biogenic silica
  • Canada
  • Chironomids
  • Late Holocene paleoclimate
  • Loss-on-ignition
  • Radiative forcing
  • Treeline

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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