A mechanistic understanding of oxygen isotopic changes in the Western United States at the Last Glacial Maximum

Clay Tabor, Marcus Lofverstrom, Jessica Oster, Barbara Wortham, Cameron de Wet, Isabel Montañez, Alan Rhoades, Colin Zarzycki, Chengfei He, Zhengyu Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


At the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), records suggest drier conditions in the northwest United States and wetter conditions in the southwest United States relative to present-day as well as widespread changes in the isotopic composition of water. However, the mechanisms responsible for these changes remain ambiguous. Here, we explore differences in western United States hydroclimate between the LGM and preindustrial with a water isotope tracer enabled Earth System Model. We then use proxy forward models to compare simulated and recorded δ18O in speleothems. We find that the pattern of hydroclimate response in the western United States at the LGM relates to a combination of 1) increased frequency and southward shifted wintertime extratropical cyclones in the North Pacific, 2) greater rainout of moisture as it moves over the continent, and 3) reduced evaporation in the cooler LGM climate. The simulated lower δ18O of precipitation at the LGM relates predominantly to an increase in cool season moisture removal efficiency, with a secondary contribution from relatively more cool season precipitation. Both surface temperatures and North American ice sheets contribute to these hydroclimate changes at the LGM. Comparisons between δ18O from proxy forward models and speleothem records in the western United States show general agreement at the LGM, with increasing depletion moving towards the continental interior. This study highlights the similarities and differences between hydrologic and δ18O changes at the LGM and emphasizes the utility of model-proxy comparison for interpretation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107255
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - Dec 15 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Geology


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