Palaeoenvironmental changes recorded by speleothems of the southern Alps (Piani Eterni, Belluno, Italy) during four interglacial to glacial climate transitions


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Quaternary Science Reviews

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Three stalagmites, which grew in the high altitude (∼1800 m a.s.l.) Piani Eterni karst system (northern Italy), represent the longest speleothem palaeoclimate-environmental record from the southern Alps. U-Th dating shows their discontinuous formation during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 10, 8, 7d, 6 and 5d–b, with carbonate deposition prevented during both full interglacial and full glacial stages. Speleothem formation was inhibited during interglacial peaks because local base level rise, connected to global climate changes, caused the alluviation of the main epiphreatic levels of the cave system. Drainage of the hydrological pathways, caused by the progressive decrease of rainfall and the accumulation of a perennial snow pack, stopped carbonate deposition during glacials. Thus, Piani Eterni speleothems function as indicators of transitional interglacial to glacial (IG–G) climate periods over the last ∼400 thousand years (kyrs). Analysis of δ18O and δ13C suggest that: i) seasonal snow melt occurred in these high altitude terrains during IG–G times, allowing meteoric water to efficiently penetrate the karst network; ii) soils were restored during MIS 5c–b, but absent during MIS 10, 8, 7d and 6 due to denudation of the karst surfaces; and iii) rainfall perturbations modulated the IG–G shifts in the southern Alps. Rainfall variation is connected to solar radiation changes at orbital timescales during MIS 5c–b, and mimics Dansgaard-Oeschger (DO) cycle variability during DO 23 and 22. DO cycle-like variability is also suspected during MIS 10, 8 and 6. The most important result is that, from a geochemical perspective, this study demonstrates that drivers of δ18O in southern alpine speleothems are similar to Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian speleothems in that they are prevalently controlled by the rainfall amount effect. This contrasts with speleothem records from the more continental northern alpine sector where the air temperature effect on δ18O of precipitation dominates.

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