For the past decade, East Asian monsoon history has been interpreted in the context of an exceptionally well-dated, high-resolution composite record of speleothem oxygen isotopes (δ18Ocave) from the Yangtze River Valley. This record is characterized by a unique spectral response, with variance concentrated predominantly within the precession band and an enigmatic lack of variance at the eccentricity and obliquity bands. Here we examine the spectral characteristics of all existing >250-kyr-long terrestrial water isotope records in Asia, including a new water isotope record using leaf wax hydrogen isotope ratios from the Chinese Loess Plateau. There exist profound differences in spectral characteristics among all orbital-scale Asian water isotope records. We demonstrate that these differences result from latitudinal gradients in the influence of the winter and summer monsoons, both of which impact climate and water isotopes throughout East Asia. Water isotope records therefore do not reflect precipitation during a single season or from a single circulation system. Rather, water isotope records in East Asia reflect the complex interplay of oceanic and continental moisture sources, operating at multiple Earth-orbital periods. These non-linear interactions are reflected in water isotope spectra by the presence of heterodynes. Although complex, we submit that water isotope records, when paired with rapidly developing isotope-enabled model simulations, will have the potential to elucidate mechanisms causing seasonal precipitation variability and moisture source variability in East Asia.
Thomas, E. K., Clemens, S. C., Sun, Y., Prell, W. L., Huang, Y., Gao, L., … Liu, Z. (2016). Heterodynes dominate precipitation isotopes in the East Asian monsoon region, reflecting interaction of multiple climate factors. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 455, 196–206. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2016.09.044