Autogenic geomorphic processes determine the resolution and fidelity of terrestrial paleoclimate records

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Science Advances  13 Sep 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 9, e1700683
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700683


Terrestrial paleoclimate records rely on proxies hosted in alluvial strata whose beds are deposited by unsteady and nonlinear geomorphic processes. It is broadly assumed that this renders the resultant time series of terrestrial paleoclimatic variability noisy and incomplete. We evaluate this assumption using a model of oscillating climate and the precise topographic evolution of an experimental alluvial system. We find that geomorphic stochasticity can create aliasing in the time series and spurious climate signals, but these issues are eliminated when the period of climate oscillation is longer than a key time scale of internal dynamics in the geomorphic system. This emergent autogenic geomorphic behavior imparts regularity to deposition and represents a natural discretization interval of the continuous climate signal. We propose that this time scale in nature could be in excess of 104 years but would still allow assessments of the rates of climate change at resolutions finer than the existing age model techniques in isolation.

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