EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Cryogenic cave carbonates in the Dolomites (Northern Italy): insights into Younger Dryas cooling and seasonal precipitation

Gabriella Koltai1, Christoph Spötl1, Alexander H. Jarosch2, and Hai Cheng3
Gabriella Koltai et al.
  • 1University of Innsbruck, Institute of Geology, Innsbruck, Austria (
  • 2ThetaFrame Solutions, Kufstein, Austria
  • 3Xi’an Jiaotong University, Institute of Global Environmental Change, Xi’an, China

In the European Alps, the Younger Dryas (YD) was characterized by the last major glacier advance with equilibrium line altitudes being ~220 to 290 m lower than during the Little Ice Age and also by the development of rock glaciers. Dating of these geomorphic features, however, is associated with substantial uncertainties leading to considerable ambiguities on the internal structure of this stadial, the most intensively studied one of the last glacial period.

Our study utilizes a novel paleoclimate archive, coarse crystalline cryogenic cave carbonates (hereafter CCC), that allows to precisely constrain when ~ 0°C conditions prevailed in the shallow subsurface in the past, often related to permafrost thawing events.

Here we presents the first record of CCC from the Dolomites (Southern Alps). In contrast to many studies from Central European caves these speleothems formed not during a major climate warming but within a prominent stadial. 230Th-dating of the CCC indicates sustained negative temperatures close to  ~0°C between ~12.6 and ~12.2 ka BP at about 50 m below the surface, initiating the slow freezing of dripwater-induced meltwater pockets in perennial cave ice. This in combination with thermal modelling argues for a cooling of ≤ 3°C at the Allerød-YD transition at this high-alpine site in the Southern Alps. Our data suggest that autumns and early winters in the early part of the YD were relatively snow-rich, resulting in a stable winter snow cover at this site. The snow cover insulated the subsurface and allowed the cave interior to remain close to the freezing point (0°C) year-round, promoting CCC formation.

The main phase of CCC precipitation at ~12.2 ka BP coincides with the mid-YD transition recorded in other archives across Europe. Based on thermal modelling we propose that CCC formation at ~12.2 ka BP was most likely associated with a slight warming of approximately +1°C in conjunction with drier autumns and early winters in the second half of the YD. These changes triggered CCC formation in this alpine cave as well as ice glacier retreat and rock glacier expansion in the Alps. Our study demonstrates that CCCs can provide quantitative constraints on paleotemperature and seasonally resolved precipitation changes.

How to cite: Koltai, G., Spötl, C., Jarosch, A. H., and Cheng, H.: Cryogenic cave carbonates in the Dolomites (Northern Italy): insights into Younger Dryas cooling and seasonal precipitation, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-7889,, 2021.


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