School of Earth Sciences - Theses

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    Exploring the palaeoclimate potential of South East Australian speleothems
    Green, Helen Elizabeth ( 2013)
    The paucity of palaeoclimatic data existing for the Southern Hemisphere and the regional bias of new data from the Northern Hemisphere has meant conclusions regarding the global response to the numerous climatic events of the last 20 kyr is both widely disputed and poorly understood. Despite being one of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest landmasses, Australia in particular displays a limited pool of palaeoclimatic information and the production of a new, robust record providing an insight into the response and timing of key climatic events is paramount to generating a more comprehensive characterisation and improved understanding of palaeoclimate in this region. Speleothems (cave deposits) are valuable archives of palaeoclimate variation, characterised by their extensive growth intervals and large geographic extent. They contain a multitude of ‘proxy’ records both directly and indirectly linked to climatic fluctuations and are typically robust, displaying high preservation potential with no post-depositional alteration. Key to their success is their amenability to radiometric dating, allowing the establishment of robust and reliable chronologies to which their multi-proxy records can be anchored. Consequently speleothems provide a clear opportunity to explore and expand palaeoclimatic knowledge at sites across the globe. This thesis describes and explains the use of state of the art technology to exploit relatively recent advances in U-series dating to construct reliable and detailed records of south east Australia’s response to palaeoclimatic fluctuations over the last 50 kyr using samples collected from cave sites from across the states of Victoria and New South Wales. 28 speleothem samples have been analysed in terms of both their coincident growth intervals and stable isotope variation to provide records with palaeoclimatic implications at a range of time scales. The production of a chronological template of speleothem growth intervals has enabled the assessment of south east Australia’s response to some of the key local and global millennial scale climatic events of the last glacial to interglacial transition and detailed stable isotope analysis of selected samples have been interpreted with the aid of a thorough cave monitoring programme, identifying increased variability in the region’s climate during the late Holocene. The palaeoclimatic records developed in this thesis represent a significant step forward in Southern Hemispheric palaeoclimatology. These records offer valuable new data for both palaeoclimatologists exploring south east Australia’s past climate and those investigating climatic fluctuations at a hemispheric to global scale. The high resolution and robust chronology of the records produced means that they provide a benchmark to which future records might be anchored.