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Keywords:

  • Big Lyakhovsky Island;
  • ground ice;
  • ice wedges;
  • Late Quaternary;
  • northern Siberia;
  • palaeoclimate;
  • stable isotopes

Abstract

Late Quaternary permafrost deposits on Big Lyakhovsky Island (New Siberian Islands, Russian Arctic) were studied with the aim of reconstructing the palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental conditions of northern Siberia. Hydrogen and oxygen stable isotope analyses are presented for six different generations of ice wedges as well as for recent ice wedges and precipitation. An age of about 200 ka BP was determined for an autochtonous peat layer in ice-rich deposits by U/Th method, containing the oldest ice wedges ever analysed for hydrogen and oxygen isotopes. The palaeoclimatic reconstruction revealed a period of severe winter temperatures at that time. After a gap in the sedimentation history of several tens of thousands of years, ice-wedge growth was re-initiated around 50 ka BP by a short period of extremely cold winters and rapid sedimentation leading to ice-wedge burial and characteristic ice-soil wedges (‘polosatics’). This corresponds to the initial stage for the Late Weichselian Ice Complex, a peculiar cryolithogenic periglacial formation typical of the lowlands of northern Siberia. The Ice Complex ice wedges reflect cold winters and similar climatic conditions as around 200 ka BP. With a sharp rise in δ18O of 6‰ and δD of 40‰, the warming trend between Pleistocene and Holocene ice wedges is documented. Stable isotope data of recent ice wedges show that Big Lyakhovsky Island has never been as warm in winter as today. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.