The Younger Dryas cold interval represents a time when much of the Northern Hemisphere cooled from approximately 12.9 to 11.5 kiloyears B.P. The cause of this event, which has long been viewed as the canonical example of abrupt climate change, was initially attributed to the routing of freshwater to the St. Lawrence River with an attendant reduction in Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. However, this mechanism has recently been questioned because current proxies and dating techniques have been unable to confirm that eastward routing with an increase in freshwater flux occurred during the Younger Dryas. Here we use new geochemical proxies (DeltaMg/Ca, U/Ca, and (87)Sr/(86)Sr) measured in planktonic foraminifera at the mouth of the St. Lawrence estuary as tracers of freshwater sources to further evaluate this question. Our proxies, combined with planktonic delta(18)O(seawater) and delta(13)C, confirm that routing of runoff from western Canada to the St. Lawrence River occurred at the start of the Younger Dryas, with an attendant increase in freshwater flux of 0.06 +/- 0.02 Sverdrup (1 Sverdrup = 10(6) m(3).s(-1)). This base discharge increase is sufficient to have reduced Atlantic meridional overturning circulation and caused the Younger Dryas cold interval. In addition, our data indicate subsequent fluctuations in the freshwater flux to the St. Lawrence River of approximately 0.06-0.12 Sverdrup, thus explaining the variability in the overturning circulation and climate during the Younger Dryas.