Impacts of abrupt climate changes in the Levant from Last Glacial Dead Sea levels

Adi Torfstein*, Steven L. Goldstein, Mordechai Stein, Yehouda Enzel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

156 Scopus citations


A new, detailed lake level curve for Lake Lisan (the Last Glacial Dead Sea) reveals a high frequency of abrupt fluctuations during Marine Isotope Stage 3 (MIS3) compared to the relatively high stand characterizing MIS2, and the significantly lower Holocene lake. The lake level fluctuations reflect the hydrological conditions in the large watershed of the lake, which in turn reflects the hydro-climatic conditions in the central Levant region. The new curve shows that the fluctuations coincide on millennial timescales with temperature variations recorded in Greenland. Four patterns of correlation are observed through the last ice age: (1) maximum lake elevations were reached during MIS2, the coldest interval; (2) abrupt lake level drops to the lowest elevations coincided with the occurrence of Heinrich (H) events; (3) the lake returned to higher-stand conditions along with warming in Greenland that followed H-events; (4) significant lake level fluctuations coincided with virtually every Greenland stadial-interstadial cycle.Over glacial-interglacial time-scales, Northern Hemisphere glacial cooling induces extreme wetness in the Levant, with high lake levels reaching ∼160 m below mean sea level (mbmsl), approximately 240 m above typical Holocene levels of ∼400 mbmsl. These orbital time-scale shifts are driven by expansions of the European ice sheet, which deflect westerly storm tracks southward to the Eastern Mediterranean, resulting in increased sea-air temperature gradients that invoke increased cyclogenesis, and enhanced moisture delivery to the Levant. The millennial-scale lake level drops associated with Greenland stadials are most extreme during Heinrich stadials and reflect abrupt cooling of the Eastern Mediterranean atmosphere and sea-surface, which weaken the cyclogenic rain engine and cause extreme Levant droughts. During the recovery from the effect of Heinrich stadials, the regional climate configuration resumed typical glacial conditions, with enhanced Levant precipitation and a rise in Lake Lisan levels. Similar cyclicity in the transfer of moisture to the Levant affected lake levels during all of the non-Heinrich stadial-interstadial cycles.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Anton Vaks and Mira Bar-Matthews for sharing their data with us. Fruitful conversations with Y. Kushnir and comments by two anonymous reviewers are appreciated. Funding was provided by the US-Israel Bi-National Science Foundation (BSF) Grant #2010.375 to M.S. and S.G., and by Israel Science Foundation (ISF) Center of Research Grant #1736/11 to Y.E.


  • Dead Sea
  • Lake Lisan
  • Lake levels
  • Levant paleoclimate
  • Millennial scale climate change


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