Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 194:1-3 (May 15, 2003), pp. 139-164; doi:10.1016/S0031-0182(03)00275-X. Special issue on “Late-quaternary palaeoclimates of the southern tropical Andes and adjacent regions.” Copyright © 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. Used by permission.


A composite high-resolution diatom stratigraphy from three piston cores and one box-core in the deep sub-basin of Lake Titicaca reveals large moisture variations during the past 30 kyr in the Altiplano region. Diatom sequences indicate orbital and millennial-scale variability in water level and salinity. The pelagic freshwater diatom species Cyclotella andina and Cyclotella stelligera dominate Glacial-age sediments, suggesting that the lake was above its present outlet. Generally, wet conditions continued until 11,000 cal yr BP, as indicated by high percentages of freshwater planktonic diatoms. Large pulses of benthic diatom species between about 11,000 and 10,000 cal yr BP suggest brief intervals of large amplitude declines in lake level. During the early Holocene (10,000–8,500 cal yr BP), a freshwater diatom assemblage suggests overflowing conditions. Pelagic freshwater diatoms are replaced ca. 8,500 cal yr BP by the salinity-indifferent species Cyclotella meneghiniana and by benthic taxa, indicating the beginning of lake regression. During the mid-Holocene (6,000–3,500 cal yr BP), the abundance of the saline taxon Chaetoceros muelleri, coupled with high abundances of epiphytic and epipelic diatoms, indicates maximum salinity and lowest lake levels in the entire 30,000 year record. Lake transgression began ca. 4,000 cal yr BP, and the lake achieved modern levels by about 1,500 cal yr BP. These water-level changes imply changes in effective moisture, most likely resulting from large precipitation changes. Precipitation was high throughout the Last Glacial Maximum (21,000–18,000 cal yr BP), likely due to an enhanced South American Summer Monsoon during peak summer insolation in the Southern Hemisphere. In contrast, the mid-Holocene transition was dryer than today in association with an austral summer insolation minimum and the subsequent weakening of the summer monsoon.