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Christof Pearce

The 3.6ka Aniakchak tephra in the Arctic Ocean: A constraint on the Holocene radiocarbon reservoir age in the Chukchi Sea

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  • Christof Pearce
  • Aron Varhelyi, Stockholm University
  • ,
  • Stefan Wastegård, Stockholm University
  • ,
  • Francesco Muschitiello, Stockholm University, Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Columbia University
  • ,
  • Natalia Barrientos, Stockholm University
  • ,
  • Matt O'Regan, Stockholm University
  • ,
  • Thomas M. Cronin, U.S. Geological Survey
  • ,
  • Laura Gemery, U.S. Geological Survey
  • ,
  • Igor Semiletov, Tomsk National Research Polytechnic University, Far Eastern Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences
  • ,
  • Jan Backman, Stockholm University
  • ,
  • Martin Jakobsson, Stockholm University

The caldera-forming eruption of the Aniakchak volcano in the Aleutian Range on the Alaskan Peninsula at 3.6 cal kyr BP was one of the largest Holocene eruptions worldwide. The resulting ash is found as a visible sediment layer in several Alaskan sites and as a cryptotephra on Newfoundland and Greenland. This large geographic distribution, combined with the fact that the eruption is relatively well constrained in time using radiocarbon dating of lake sediments and annual layer counts in ice cores, makes it an excellent stratigraphic marker for dating and correlating mid-late Holocene sediment and paleoclimate records. This study presents the outcome of a targeted search for the Aniakchak tephra in a marine sediment core from the Arctic Ocean, namely Core SWERUS-L2-2-PC1 (2PC), raised from 57m water depth in Herald Canyon, western Chukchi Sea. High concentrations of tephra shards, with a geochemical signature matching that of Aniakchak ash, were observed across a more than 1.5m long sediment sequence. Since the primary input of volcanic ash is through atmospheric transport, and assuming that bioturbation can account for mixing up to ca. 10cm of the marine sediment deposited at the coring site, the broad signal is interpreted as sustained reworking at the sediment source input. The isochron is therefore placed at the base of the sudden increase in tephra concentrations rather than at the maximum concentration. This interpretation of major reworking is strengthened by analysis of grain size distribution which points to ice rafting as an important secondary transport mechanism of volcanic ash. Combined with radiocarbon dates on mollusks in the same sediment core, the volcanic marker is used to calculate a marine radiocarbon reservoir age offset δR = 477 ± 60 years. This relatively high value may be explained by the major influence of typically "carbon-old" Pacific waters, and it agrees well with recent estimates of δR along the northwest Alaskan coast, possibly indicating stable oceanographic conditions during the second half of the Holocene. Our use of a volcanic absolute age marker to obtain the marine reservoir age offset is the first of its kind in the Arctic Ocean and provides an important framework for improving chronologies and correlating marine sediment archives in this region. Core 2PC has a high sediment accumulation rate averaging 200cmkyr-1 throughout the last 4000 years, and the chronology presented here provides a solid base for high-resolution reconstructions of late Holocene climate and ocean variability in the Chukchi Sea.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClimate of the Past
Pages (from-to)303-316
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2017

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