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Many sediment records from the margins of the Californias (Alta and Baja) collected in water depths between 60 and 1200m contain anoxic intervals (laminated sediments) that can be correlated with interstadial intervals as defined by the oxygen-isotope composition of Greenland ice (Dansgaard–Oeschger, D–O, cycles). These intervals include all or parts of Oxygen Isotope Stage 3 (OIS3; 60–24 cal ka), the Bolling/Allerod warm interval (B/A; 15–13 cal ka), and the Holocene. This study uses organic carbon (Corg) and trace-element proxies for anoxia and productivity, namely elevated concentrations and accumulation rates of molybdenum and cadmium, in these laminated sediments to suggest that productivity may be more important than ventilation in producing changes in bottom-water oxygen (BWO) conditions on open, highly productive continental margins. The main conclusion from these proxies is that during the last glacial interval (LGI; 24–15 cal ka) and the Younger Dryas cold interval (YD; 13–11.6 cal ka) productivity was lower and BWO levels were higher than during OIS3, the B/A, and the Holocene on all margins of the Californias. The Corg and trace-element profiles in the LGI–B/ A–Holocene transition in the Cariaco Basin on the margin of northern Venezuela are remarkably similar to those in the transition on the northern California margin. Correlation between D–O cycles in Greenland ice with gray-scale measurements in varved sediments in the Cariaco Basin also is well established. Synchronous climate-driven changes as recorded in the sediments on the margins of the Californias, sediments from the Cariaco Basin, and in the GISP-2 Greenland ice core support the hypothesis that changes in atmospheric dynamics played a major role in abrupt climate change during the last 60 ka. Millennial-scale cycles in productivity and oxygen depletion on the margins of the Californias demonstrate that the California Current System was poised at a threshold whereby perturbations of atmospheric circulation produced rapid changes in circulation in the eastern North Pacific Ocean. It is likely that the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans were linked through the atmosphere. Warmer air temperatures during interstadials would have strengthened Hadley and Walker circulations, which, in turn, would have strengthened the subtropical high pressure systems in both the North Pacific and the North Atlantic, producing increased rainfall over the Cariaco Basin and increased upwelling along the margins of the Californias.