General circulation model simulations suggest that during the Last Glacial Maximum, the northern circumpolar vortex intensified and enlarged, a glacial anticyclone developed over the Laurentide Ice Sheet, and the position of the jet stream was shifted southward. However, observations directly related to shifts in wind patterns across the North American continent have not yet been reported. We examined tree-ring cellulose from the Holocene and the last glacial period for: (1) covariation between precipitation δ18O (and δD) and relative humidity, and (2) variation of cellulose δ18O and δD with longitude. Holocene isotopic features are consistent with modern moisture trajectories. The isotopic features during the last glaciation are dissimilar to those in the Holocene, and constitute direct evidence for an expansion of the polar easterlies to latitudes as low as 40°N. This is the first time that moisture transport patterns have been inferred from covariation between isotopic composition in precipitation and relative humidity, a technique that holds much promise for future studies of atmospheric circulation.

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