EGU21-7071, updated on 07 Mar 2023
EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Millennial-timescale reconstruction of Upper Pleistocene temperature and precipitation derived from earthworm calcite granules in western European loess profiles

Charlotte Prud'homme1, Peter Fischer2, Olaf Jöris3, Christine Hatté4, Mathias Vinnepand2, Hubert Vonhof5, Olivier Moine6, Andreas Vött2, and Kathryn Fitzsimmons1
Charlotte Prud'homme et al.
  • 1Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Research Group for Terrestrial Palaeoclimates, Mainz, Germany
  • 2Institute of Geography, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany
  • 3MONREPOS Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution, Neuwied, Germany
  • 4Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, UMR 8212 CNRS-CEA-UVSQ, Université Paris-Saclay, Gif-sur-Yvette, France
  • 5Department of Climate Geochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany
  • 6Laboratoire de Géographie Physique: Environnements Quaternaires et Actuels UMR 8591 CNRS, Université Paris 1 UPEC, Meudon, France

Loess-Palaeosol Sequences (LPS) represent the most extensive Quaternary terrestrial archives. Although researchers have long been able to identify short-lived climatic changes in LPS through stratigraphy, until recently we have lacked the tools to 1) identify how continuous loess archives may be, and to what extent short-lived, millennial-timescale climatic events were recorded in loess sediments, and to 2) quantitatively reconstruct past climate parameters from loess proxies. Stratigraphically, the impact of short-lived climatic cycles can be observed in the form of primary loess deposits reflecting cold stadial conditions, intercalated with arctic and boreal brown soils and tundra gley horizons indicating milder interstadials. Short-term establishment and subsequent degradation of an active permafrost layer can also be identified in temperate-latitude loess such as that found in the Rhine Valley of central-western Europe. Recently developed proxy methods can now be used to quantify climatic parameters such as temperature and precipitation in these regions 1,2. Associated with radiocarbon dating, these new approaches will vastly improve our understanding of continental environmental changes through the Upper Pleistocene, which can now be compared at high temporal resolution with marine and ice core records. In particular, the quantity and stable isotope ratios of crystalline calcite granules (> 0.8 mm), secreted by earthworms (Lumbricus sp.)  at the soil surface, preserve climate information contemporaneous with deposition of the loess sediment.

In this study, we assess the utility of the earthworm calcite granules (ECG) approach by reconstructing temperature and precipitation at high resolution between 50 and 15 ka from two temporally overlapping loess sequences, Schwalbenberg and Nussloch, situated approximately 200 km apart in the German Rhine Valley. ECG counts down the two profiles reveal millennial-timescale climatic variations; high ECG concentrations associated with pedogenetic horizons suggest milder climatic with increasing biological activity and vegetation cover. Using empirical equations based on 1) observations of modern earthworm response to temperature and 2) the linear relationship between ∆13C values of plants and precipitation, the stable oxygen and carbon isotope compositions from ECGs can be used as direct proxies for warm season temperature and annual soil moisture, respectively. We embed our climate reconstructions within Bayesian age models based on radiocarbon dating of ECG in order to establish precise correlations between the two sequences and with other climatic archives. We find that ECGs provide valuable proxies able to meaningfully quantify palaeoclimate variations from terrestrial deposits over millennial timescales. Our results further show periods of quasi-simultaneous climatic change in the Northern Hemisphere, closely linking the climatic signatures recorded in the Upper Pleistocene of Schwalbenberg and Nussloch to the Greenland ice core records.


1. Prud’homme, C. et al. Palaeotemperature reconstruction during the Last Glacial from δ18O of earthworm calcite granules from Nussloch loess sequence, Germany. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 442, 13–20 (2016).

2. Prud’homme, C. et al. δ 13C signal of earthworm calcite granules: a new proxy for palaeoprecipitation reconstructions during the Last Glacial in Western Europe. Quat. Sci. Rev. 179, 158–166 (2018).

How to cite: Prud'homme, C., Fischer, P., Jöris, O., Hatté, C., Vinnepand, M., Vonhof, H., Moine, O., Vött, A., and Fitzsimmons, K.: Millennial-timescale reconstruction of Upper Pleistocene temperature and precipitation derived from earthworm calcite granules in western European loess profiles, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-7071,, 2021.


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