The tropical Pacific plays a central role in the climate system by providing large diabatic heating that drives the global atmospheric circulation. Quantifying the role of the tropics in late Pleistocene climate change has been hampered by the paucity of paleoclimate records from this region and the lack of realistic transient climate model simulations covering this period. Here we present records of hydrogen isotope ratios (partial derivative D) of alkenones from the Panama Basin off the Colombian coast that document hydrologic changes in equatorial South America and the eastern tropical Pacific over the past 27,000 years ( a) and the past 3 centuries in detail. Comparison of alkenone partial derivative D values with instrumental records of precipitation over the past similar to 100 a suggests that partial derivative D can be used as a hydrologic proxy. On long timescales our records indicate reduced rainfall during the last glacial period that can be explained by a southward shift of the mean position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone and an associated reduction of Pacific moisture transport into Colombia. Precipitation increases at similar to 17 ka in concert with sea surface temperature ( SST) cooling in the North Atlantic and the eastern tropical Pacific. A regional coupled model, forced by negative SST anomalies in the Caribbean, simulates an intensification of northeasterly trade winds across Central America, increased evaporative cooling, and a band of increased rainfall in the northeastern tropical Pacific. These results are consistent with the alkenone SST and partial derivative D reconstructions that suggest increasing precipitation and SST cooling at the time of Heinrich event 1.
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