Climate Dynamics

, Volume 53, Issue 3–4, pp 1517–1526 | Cite as

Unstable Little Ice Age climate revealed by high-resolution proxy records from northwestern China

  • Jianhui ChenEmail author
  • Jianbao Liu
  • Xiaojian Zhang
  • Shengqian Chen
  • Wei Huang
  • Jie Chen
  • Shengrui Zhang
  • Aifeng Zhou
  • Fahu Chen


Climatic instability, especially on decadal to multi-decadal time scales, has a profound impact on societal development and human welfare in semi-arid and arid regions. Previous work suggested that arid northwestern China was characterized by a dry Medieval Warm Period (MWP, from ca. 1000 to 1300 AD) and a wet Little Ice Age (LIA, from ca. 1400 to 1850 AD), but there is a lack of studies addressing the issue of climatic variability during the last millennium. Here, we present results from a diverse range of proxy records from northwestern China with the aim of evaluating the time variation of hydroclimatic variability during the MWP and LIA. Within the context of an overall cold climate, we detected a pattern of higher moisture variability during the LIA compared to the MWP. A comparison of the proxy records of climatic instability during the LIA from northwestern China with the major modes of SST and atmospheric variability, which affect moisture/precipitation in Asia, suggests that the instability of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) from middle- to high-latitude regions during the LIA was a major driving factor. The westerlies may play an important role in linking the unstable climatic conditions observed in the above-mentioned regions. Our results support the concept that climatic instability was above the norm during cold periods, in contrast with present observations that demonstrate the occurrence of increasingly extreme climatic events with ongoing global warming.


Climatic instability Little ice age Medieval warm period Northwestern China 



We thank Drs. Xiaohong Liu, Yong Zhang and Wei Wang for providing us with original data. This research was supported by the National Key R&D Program of China (grants 2017YFA0603402, 2018YFA0606401) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant 41822102).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jianhui Chen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jianbao Liu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xiaojian Zhang
    • 3
  • Shengqian Chen
    • 1
  • Wei Huang
    • 1
  • Jie Chen
    • 1
  • Shengrui Zhang
    • 4
  • Aifeng Zhou
    • 1
  • Fahu Chen
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Western China’s Environmental Systems (Ministry of Education), College of Earth and Environmental SciencesLanzhou UniversityLanzhouChina
  2. 2.Center for Excellence in Tibetan Earth ScienceChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.School of Geographic and Oceanographic SciencesNanjing UniversityNanjingChina
  4. 4.Key Laboratory of Cenozoic Geology and Environment, Institute of Geology and GeophysicsChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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