This paper provides a tentative reconstruction of environmental shifts in Europe associated with changes of the North Atlantic Current and related meridional sea-surface temperature (SST) gradients. During most of the Eemian interglacial (ca. 126–115 ka), the North Atlantic Current extended far north into the Nordic Seas and European environments were comparable to those of the Holocene. However, ca. 115 ka an SST drop in the Nordic Seas marked a southward displacement of the North Atlantic Current. This hydrographic shift was associated with substantial cooling in northern Europe and drier conditions in the Mediterranean region. The polar timberline retreated southward from 69°N in northernmost Scandinavia to 52°N in central Europe, and thermophilous deciduous trees became extinct north of the 48th parallel. Woodlands persisted in southern Europe for another 5 k.y. well into marine isotope substage 5d. These conditions indicate steep vegetation and climate gradients at the inception of the last glacial.

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