Reconstructing late Holocene Artctic climate change using high resolution sediment records from Simpson Lagoon, Alaska and the Colville River alluvial valley
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Arctic nearshore environments proximal to large rivers, like Simpson Lagoon, Alaska, potentially contain high-resolution sediment archives that can be utilized to reconstruct paleoclimate variability over the late Holocene. The ongoing, rapid environmental changes recently observed in the Arctic highlight the need for high-resolution records of pre-industrial climate change in this climatically sensitive region; such records are fundamental for understanding recent anthropogenic changes in the context of natural variability. This dissertation utilizes a suite of geochemical and sedimentological proxies in combination with age-constrained, shallow acoustic reflection data to demonstrate that these underutilized coastal sediment archives are capable of generating high-resolution paleoclimate records on par with other terrestrial climate archives (i.e. lake sediments, ice cores, tree rings) and provides the first ~1650-year long record of climate variability from the inner shelf of the Alaskan Beaufort Sea. An analysis of sedimentation patterns within Simpson Lagoon using CHIRP seismic data and radioisotope geochronology reveals that sediment infilling in Simpson Lagoon began ~3500 y BP, creating a primary depocenter with mm/y sediment accumulation in western Simpson Lagoon. The interbedded sediments suggest that major sediment reworking from ice processes, a common occurrence in Arctic shelf environments, does not disrupt the sediment archive contained within the lagoon. Quantitative reconstructions of surface air temperature are obtained using the brGDGT-derived MBT’/CBT paleothermometer. A comprehensive study of lagoon and river sediments and catchment soils demonstrate that brGDGTs are primarily soil-derived, and yield reconstructed temperatures consistent with instrumental summer temperature observations from Alaska’s North Slope. Temperature reconstructions from Simpson Lagoon also show similarities with regional and pan-Arctic climate records over the last few millennia, with evidence of temperature departures correlative with noted climate events (i.e., Little Ice Age, Medieval Climate Anomaly). In addition, temporal variability in sediment sourcing to the lagoon, determined using a multi-proxy approach (i.e., granulometry, elemental analysis, clay mineralogy), broadly corresponds with temperature fluctuations, indicating relative increases in fluvial sediment discharge during colder intervals and decreased river discharge/increased coastal erosion during warmer periods. This paleoclimate variability may be driven by variations in solar output and/or shifts in the regional ocean-atmosphere circulation patterns (e.g., the Aleutian Low).