Carbon isotope composition of fossil charcoal reveals aridity changes in the NW Mediterranean Basin
Araus Ortega, José Luis
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Although several proxies for the inference of precipitation have been proposed, evidence of changes in aridity during the Holocene is scarce, and most is only qualitative. Moreover, precipitation regimes show relatively poor spatial correlations and can exhibit contrasting responses to global climate trends in different areas. Thus, there is a need to concentrate efforts at the local scale in order to increase the spatial resolution of palaeoclimate records, especially regarding water availability in semiarid zones. We propose the analysis of carbon isotope composition (d13C) in fossil charcoal (routinely recovered from archaeological sites) to quantify changes in water availability in the past. We applied this approach to reconstruct variations in aridity during the last four millennia in the Ebro Depression (NE Iberian Peninsula). First, we studied the effect of carbonization over a range of temperatures (300-500 1C) on the d13C of Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis Mill.) wood cores, collected from nine locations in NE Iberian Peninsula with distinct water availability. Despite significant changes in d13C caused by carbonization, the original climatic signal of wood d13C was well preserved. Moreover, d13C shifts induced by this process were successfully corrected by accounting for variation in charcoal carbon concentration (%C). After removing the effect of carbonization, we estimated annual precipitation (P) and the ratio between annual precipitation and evapotranspiration (P/E) from the d13C of fossil charcoal. In general, estimated water availability in the past was higher than present values, indicating that latter-day (semiarid) conditions are mostly due to recent climate changes. The good agreement between our findings and other evidence indicates that the analysis of d13C in charcoal may be useful to expand current palaeoclimate records as it provides a complementary (and quantitative) source of information to assess climate dynamics.