ST. LIVRES – Dating of Fossil Wood in the St. Livres Ice Cave

Mid-latitude ice caves are assumed to be highly sensitive to climatic changes and thus represent a potentially interesting environmental archive. Establishing a precise chronology is, however, a prerequisite for the understanding of processes driving the cave-ice mass balance and thus allows a paleoenvironmental interpretation. At St. Livres ice cave (Jura Mountains, Switzerland), subfossil trees and organic material are abundant in the cave-ice deposit, therefore allowing the dating of individual ice layers. The dendrochronological analysis of 45 subfossil samples of Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) from the overhanging front of the ice outcrop as well as the dating of seven wood samples with 14C dating allowed for a reconstruction of the St. Livres cave-ice sequence and for the determination of eriods of ice accumulation and ablation. Results suggest a maximal age of 1200±50 14C yr BP for the observed ice sequence and indicate the presence of four major deposition gaps dated to the 14th, 15th, mid-19th and late 19th century, which can be related with periods of positive North Atlantic Oscillation anomalies (NAO+) over the winter half-year and/or anthropogenic cave-ice abstraction. Similarly, there is evidence that periods of cave-ice accumulation as observed between AD 1877–1900 and AD 1393–1415 would correspond with phases of negative NAO indices. Cave ice represents therefore an original climate archive for the winter half-year and is complementary to other continental proxies recording preferentially summer conditions (e.g., tree rings, varves).


Contact: Markus Stoffel

Project duration: October 2005 – July 2006

Sponsors: Research fund University of Fribourg

Collaboration : Schweizer Institut für Späleologie und Karstforschung (SISKA); Geographisches Institut der Universität Zürich-Irchel (GIUZ)


Stoffel, M., Luetscher, M., Bollschweiler, M., Schlatter, F. (2009): Evidence of NAO control on subsurface ice accumulation in a 1200-yr old cave-ice sequence, St. Livres ice cave, Switzerland. Quaternary Research 72: 16–26. [PDF]