AbstractsEarth & Environmental Science

Holocene variations in the strength of the Indian Monsoon system

by Saswati Sarkar

Institution: Universität Potsdam
Degree: PhD
Year: 2015
Record ID: 1107791
Full text PDF: https://publishup.uni-potsdam.de/opus4-ubp/frontdoor/index/index/docId/7490


The monsoon is an important component of the Earth’s climate system. It played a vital role in the development and sustenance of the largely agro-based economy in India. A better understanding of past variations in the Indian Summer Monsoon (ISM) is necessary to assess its nature under global warming scenarios. Instead, our knowledge of spatiotemporal patterns of past ISM strength, as inferred from proxy records, is limited due to the lack of high-resolution paleo-hydrological records from the core monsoon domain. In this thesis I aim to improve our understanding of Holocene ISM variability from the core ‘monsoon zone’ (CMZ) in India. To achieve this goal, I tried to understand modern and thereafter reconstruct Holocene monsoonal hydrology, by studying surface sediments and a high-resolution sedimentary record from the saline-alkaline Lonar crater lake, central India. My approach relies on analyzing stable carbon and hydrogen isotope ratios from sedimentary lipid biomarkers to track past hydrological changes. In order to evaluate the relationship of the modern ecosystem and hydrology of the lake I studied the distribution of lipid biomarkers in the modern ecosystem and compared it to lake surface sediments. The major plants from dry deciduous mixed forest type produced a greater amount of leaf wax n-alkanes and a greater fraction of n-C31 and n-C33 alkanes relative to n-C27 and n-C29. Relatively high average chain length (ACL) values (29.6–32.8) for these plants seem common for vegetation from an arid and warm climate. Additionally I found that human influence and subsequent nutrient supply result in increased lake primary productivity, leading to an unusually high concentration of tetrahymanol, a biomarker for salinity and water column stratification, in the nearshore sediments. Due to this inhomogeneous deposition of tetrahymanol in modern sediments, I hypothesize that lake level fluctuation may potentially affect aquatic lipid biomarker distributions in lacustrine sediments, in addition to source changes. I reconstructed centennial-scale hydrological variability associated with changes in the intensity of the ISM based on a record of leaf wax and aquatic biomarkers and their stable carbon (δ13C) and hydrogen (δD) isotopic composition from a 10 m long sediment core from the lake. I identified three main periods of distinct hydrology over the Holocene in central India. The period between 10.1 and 6 cal. ka BP was likely the wettest during the Holocene. Lower ACL index values (29.4 to 28.6) of leaf wax n-alkanes and their negative δ13C values (–34.8‰ to –27.8‰) indicated the dominance of woody C3 vegetation in the catchment, and negative δDwax (average for leaf wax n-alkanes) values (–171‰ to –147‰) argue for a wet period due to an intensified monsoon. After 6 cal. ka BP, a gradual shift to less negative δ13C values (particularly for the grass derived n-C31) and appearance of the triterpene lipid tetrahymanol, generally considered as a marker for salinity and water column stratification, marked the onset of drier…