The tropics are the major source of heat and moisture for the Australasian region. Determining the tropics' response over time to changes in climate forcing mechanisms, such as summer insolation, and the effects of relative sea level on exposed continental shelves during the Last Glacial period, is an ongoing process of re-evaluation. We present a synthesis of climate proxy data from tropical Australasia spanning the last 30,000 years that incorporates deep sea core, coral, speleothem, pollen, charcoal and terrestrial sedimentary records.
Today, seasonal variability is governed largely by the annual migration of the inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ), influencing this region most strongly during the austral summer. However, the position of the ITCZ has varied through time. Towards the end of Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3, conditions were far wetter throughout the region, becoming drier first in the south. Universally cooler land and sea-surface temperature (SST) were characteristic of the Last Glacial Maximum, with drier conditions than previously, although episodic wet periods are noted in the fluvial records of northern Australia. The deglacial period saw warming first in the Coral Sea and then the Indonesian seas, with a pause in this trend around the time of the Antarctic Cold Reversal (c. 14.5 ka), coincident with the flooding of the Sunda Shelf. Wetter conditions occurred first in Indonesia around 17 ka and northern Australia after 14 ka. The early Holocene saw a peak in marine SST to the northwest and northeast of Australia. Modern vegetation was first established on Indonesia, then progressively south and eastward to NE Australia. Flores and the Atherton Tablelands show a dry period around 11.6 ka, steadily becoming wetter through the early Holocene. The mid-late Holocene was punctuated by millennial-scale variability, associated with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation; this is evident in the marine, coral, speleothem and pollen records of the region.