Variability in the mean latitude of the Atlantic Intertropical Convergence Zone as recorded by riverine input of sediments to the Cariaco Basin (Venezuela)

Larry C. Peterson, Gerald H. Haug

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

202 Scopus citations


Changes in the strength and position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) are an important component of climate variability in the tropical Atlantic. The Cariaco Basin, located on the northern margin of Venezuela, is sensitive to tropical Atlantic climate change and its sediments provide a record of past ITCZ behavior. Today, the Cariaco Basin experiences two distinct seasons that reflect the annual migration of the Atlantic ITCZ. Between January and March, when the ITCZ lies south of the equator, northeasterly trade winds sit directly over Cariaco Basin and strong coastal upwelling and dry conditions dominate. Beginning in June-July, as the ITCZ moves north, local rainfall reaches a maximum and the upwelling diminishes or disappears. Here we summarize new and previously published data on the river-derived terrigenous fraction of Cariaco Basin sediments, as well as comparisons to other paleoclimate records, which together suggest a coherent climatologic response in the tropical Atlantic triggered by a pattern of ITCZ migration that mimics the seasonal cycle. During periods of cooler North Atlantic SSTs, on time-scales ranging from the Little Ice Age to the Younger Dryas to the cold stadials of the last glacial, decreased detrital delivery to Cariaco Basin from local rivers suggests a southward shift in the mean latitudinal position of the ITCZ. During warm interstadials and periods of Holocene and deglacial warmth, northward shifts in ITCZ position and its belt of convective rainfall are inferred from increased detrital delivery to the basin. Whether the rapid shifts in ITCZ position and precipitation recorded by Cariaco Basin sediments and other regional records reflect a response to forcing originating in the high latitude Atlantic or to forcing potentially sourced in the tropics is a key question yet to be fully answered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-113
Number of pages17
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 3 2006


  • Abrupt climate change
  • Cariaco Basin
  • Intertropical Convergence Zone
  • Paleoclimatology
  • Past rainfall variability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


Dive into the research topics of 'Variability in the mean latitude of the Atlantic Intertropical Convergence Zone as recorded by riverine input of sediments to the Cariaco Basin (Venezuela)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this