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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Research project: Quantifying and Understanding the Earth System

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The Northern Eurasian Palaeoecological Database – the pollen data

Pollen sites in the database
Pollen sites in the database

As part of the UK’s QUEST programme, QUEST Deglaciation (Q-D) has a goal to evaluate the performance of a new fast earth system model in simulating the major changes of the late Quaternary (21ka to 0). This model will include continuous simulations of vegetation patterns for this period and in order to evaluate the performance of the model a comparison is required between these simulations and the reconstructed vegetation based upon pollen and macrofossil evidence. Additionally, the Q-D project focuses on vegetation changes of the northern extratropics (NET), a region sensitive to climate change and thus particularly useful in evaluating the performance of climate models. Key features that can be used in data-model comparisons are the position of northern treeline during the Holocene and gradients in temperature and moisture across unglaciated Asia and Beringia at 21 ka BP.
Previous data-model comparisons using the time-slice approach (0, 6, 21 ka BP) (Bigelow et al. 2003; Kaplan et al. 2003) demonstrated the existence of a potentially large dataset of pollen sites in Northern Eurasia. However, continuous pollen records and related radiocarbon dates were not brought together in a single database, and thus need to be collected again in full. A survey of holdings in the Global Pollen Database (GPD) and European Pollen Database (EPD) indicates these databases are a good source of material for North America and Europe, but that a considerable proportion of sites in the Former Soviet Union (FSU) are not archived.
Furthermore, during the QUEST Deglaciation macrofossil workshop held in 2007 which was partly funded by PAGES (see PAGES News, Vol. 15 Nº 1, pp 27-28), it became apparent that the participants had either collected or knew of additional pollen data from these data-sparse regions. It was decided, therefore, to hold a second data gathering workshop, this time to obtain well-dated pollen records from sites in the FSU during the critical climate interval 21-kyr to present. The macrofossil and the pollen data would be housed in the same database providing the possibility to analyse the two datasets simultaneously. Crucial to such a database is the dating and the age-models which are discussed further below.

The workshop (April 2008)
Workshop participants
Nine academics who work entirely or primarily in the FSU were invited to attend the workshop:

  • Patricia Anderson (University of Washington, USA)
  • Andrei Andreev (GFZ, Potsdam, Germany)
  • Elena Bezrukova (Inst of Geochemistry, RAS, Irkutsk, Russia)
  • Tatiana Blyakharchuk (Institute for Monitoring of Climatic & Ecological Systems of Siberian Branch of RAS, Tomsk, Russia)
  • Irina Khazina (Siberian Branch Russian Academy of Sciences, Novosibirsk, Russia)
  • Konstantine Kremenetski (UCLA, USA)
  • Sergey Krigonogov (United Institute of Geology, Geophysics and Mineralogy SB RAS, Novosibirsk, Russia)
  • Anatoly Lozhkin (NE Interdisciplinary Scientific Research Insitute, RAS, Magadan, Russia)
  • Valentina Zernitskaya (Institute of Geological Sciences, Minsk, Belarus)

Elena Bezrukova and Irina Khazina received funding from PAGES to attend the workshop.

Outcomes of the workshop
Pollen data from 87 sites were added to the database during the 4 day workshop (see map to the right). All sites are well dated (530 radiocarbon dates in total) and a small number of the sites extend as far back as 48,000 years BP. These earlier sites were included as they were deemed useful for Quaternary QUEST. Metadata such as basin and lake size, sample type and landscape descriptions were included as these are important for understanding pollen source area and vegetation reconstructions. Taxonomy is also important, especially since palynologists from the FSU often use a high level of taxonomic resolution in their investigations. All original identifications will be stored in the database alongside a standardised taxonomic list which will allow comparison with other regions in the Northern Extratropics. The pollen data will be stored as original counts with a facility for calculating percentages depending on the pollen sum required. Following the workshop, pollen from an additional 477 sites was added to the database. These sites were derived from existing public databases bring the total number of sites to 554 sites. To allow data-model comparisons with an optimal precision, all the radiocarbon dates were calibrated to calendar years using IntCal04 and IntCal09 (over 1700 in total). For sites with a series of radiocarbon dates age-depth models were constructed using the Clam code. This was developed by Maarten Blaauw and produces non-Bayesian models using the R program.

Use of the database
Following data checking the pollen data will be placed in the Eurasian Pollen Database which will eventually be combined with the Eurasian Macrofossil Database (Binney et al., 2009) (both Microsoft Access). The first objective will be to produce a synthesis of vegetation dynamics in Eurasia for the interval 21-kyr to present that will be of a temporal and spatial resolution suitable for comparison with the QUEST-Deglaciation GCMs. The combined Eurasian Pollen Macrofossil database will also allow us to gain a better understanding of the position of key ecotones such as the northern treeline and the distribution of palynologically poorly represented species such as Larix.
The database will be made available in 2012 via a public portal following the production of this synthesis paper by the workshop participants.
If you wish to be kept informed of the progress of the database, email Heather Binney (

Bigelow, N.H. et al. (2003) Climate change and Arctic ecosystems I. Vegetation changes north of 55°N between the last glacial maximum, mid-Holocene and present. Journal of Geophysical Research, 108(D19), 8170.

Binney, H.A. et al. (2009) The distribution of late-Quaternary woody taxa in Eurasia: evidence from a new macrofossil database. Quaternary Science Reviews, 28, 2445-2464.

Kaplan, J.O. et al. (2003) Climate change and Arctic ecosystems: 2. modeling, paleodata-model comparisons, and future projections. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, 108(D19), 8171.

Reimer, P.J. et al. (2004) IntCal04 terrestrial radiocarbon age calibration, 0-26 cal kyr BP. Radiocarbon 46, 1029-1058.

Reimer, P.J. et al. (2009) IntCal09 and Marine09 radiocarbon age calibration curves, 0–50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 51, 1111–50.

Blaauw, M. 2010. Methods and code for `classical' age-modelling of radiocarbon sequences, Quaternary Geochronology, 5, 512-518

Related research groups

Palaeoenvironmental Laboratory at the University of Southampton (PLUS)
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