Abstract

The Laschamp geomagnetic excursion was the first short-lived polarity event recognized and described in the paleomagnetic record, and to date remains the most studied geomagnetic event of its kind. In addition to its geophysical significance, the Laschamp is an important global geochronologic marker. The Laschamp excursion occurred around the time of the demise of Homo neanderthalensis, in conjunction with high-amplitude, rapid climatic oscillations leading into the Last Glacial Maximum, and coeval with a major supervolcano eruption in the Mediterranean. Thus, precise determination of the timing and duration of the Laschamp excursion would help in elucidating major scientific questions situated at the intersection of geology, paleoclimatology, and anthropology. Here we present a North American speleothem geomagnetic record of the Laschamp excursion that is directly dated using a combination of high-precision 230Th dates and annual layer counting using confocal microscopy. We have determined a maximum excursion duration that spans the interval 42.25−39.70 ka B.P., and an age of 41.10 ± 0.35 ka B.P. for the main phase of the excursion, during which the virtual geomagnetic pole was situated at the southernmost latitude in the record. Our chronology provides the first age bracketing of the Laschamp excursion using radioisotopic dating, and improves on previous age determinations based on 40Ar/39Ar dating of lava flows, and orbitally tuned sedimentary and ice-core records.

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