Skip to main content Accessibility help

Abrupt or gradual? Change point analysis of the late Pleistocene–Holocene climate record from Chew Bahir, southern Ethiopia

  • Martin H. Trauth (a1), Verena Foerster (a2), Annett Junginger (a3), Asfawossen Asrat (a4), Henry F. Lamb (a5) and Frank Schaebitz (a2)...


We used a change point analysis on a late Pleistocene–Holocene lake-sediment record from the Chew Bahir basin in the southern Ethiopian Rift to determine the amplitude and duration of past climate transitions. The most dramatic changes occurred over 240 yr (from ~15,700 to 15,460 yr) during the onset of the African Humid Period (AHP), and over 990 yr (from ~4875 to 3885 yr) during its protracted termination. The AHP was interrupted by a distinct dry period coinciding with the high-latitude Younger Dryas stadial, which had an abrupt onset (less than ~100 yr) at ~13,260 yr and lasted until ~11,730 yr. Wet-dry-wet transitions prior to the AHP may reflect the high-latitude Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles, as indicated by cross-correlation of the potassium record with the NorthGRIP ice core record between ~45–20 ka. These findings may contribute to the debates regarding the amplitude, and duration and mechanisms of past climate transitions, and their possible influence on the development of early modern human cultures.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author at: Institute of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 24-25, 14476 Potsdam, Germany. E-mail address: (M.H. Trauth).


Hide All
Alley, R., 2000. The Younger Dryas cold interval as viewed from central Greenland. Quaternary Science Reviews 19, 213226.
Altabet, M.A., Higginson, M.J., Murray, D.W., 2002. The effect of millennial-scale changes in Arabian Sea denitrification on atmospheric CO2 . Nature 415, 159162.
Ambrose, S.H., 1998. Late Pleistocene human population bottlenecks, volcanic winter, and the differentiation of modern humans. Journal of Human Evolution 35, 115118.
Asrat, A., Baker, A., Umer, M., Moss., J., Leng, M., Van Calstren, P., Smith, C., 2007. A high-resolution multi-proxy stalagmite record from Mechara, Southeastern Ethiopia: paleohydrological implications for speleothem paleoclimate reconstruction. Journal of Quaternary Science 22, 5363.
Baker, A., Asrat, A., Leng, M., Thomas, L., Fairchild, I.J., Widmann, M., Dong, B., Van Calsteren, P., Bryant, C., 2010. Decadal-scale Holocene climate variability recorded in an Ethiopian Stalagmite. The Holocene 20, 827836.
Berke, M.A., Johnson, T.C., Werne, J.P., Grice, K., Livingstone, D., Schouten, S., Sinninghe Damsté, J.S., 2014. The characterization of the Younger Dryas in tropical Africa: Insights from Lake Albert, East Africa. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 409, 18.
Brandt, S.A., Fisher, E.C., Hildebrand, E.A., Vogelsang, R., Ambrose, S.H., Lesur, J., Wang, H., 2012. Early MIS 3 occupation of Mochena Borago Rockshelter, southwest Ethiopian Highlands: implications for Late Pleistocene archaeology, paleoenvironments and modern human dispersals. Quaternary International 274, 3854.
Brandt, S.A., Hildebrand, E.A., 2005. Southwest Ethiopia as an Upper Pleistocene refugium. Paper presented at the Workshop on the Middle Stone Age of Eastern Africa, Nairobi, Kenya and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Bronk Ramsey, C., 1995. Radiocarbon calibration and analysis of stratigraphy: the OxCal program. Radiocarbon 36, 425430.
Bronk Ramsey, C., 2009a. Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon 51, 337360.
Bronk Ramsey, C., 2009b. Dealing with outliers and offsets in radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon 51, 10231045.
Brovkin, V., Claussen, M., 2008. Comment on: “Climate-driven ecosystem succession in the Sahara: the past 6000 Yr.” Science 322, 1326b1326c.
Brown, E.T., Johnson, T.C, Scholz, C.A, Cohen, A.S, King, J.W., 2007. Abrupt change in tropical African climate linked to the bipolar seesaw over the past 55,000 yr. Geophysical Research Letters 34, L20702.
Brown, E.T., Johnson, T.C, Scholz, C.A, Cohen, A.S, King, J.W., 2008. Reply to comment by Yannick Garcin on “Abrupt change in tropical African climate linked to the bipolar seesaw over the past 55,000 years.” Geophysical Research Letters 35, L04702.
Campisano, C., Cohen, A..S., Arrowsmith, J.R., Asrat, A., Behrensmeyer, A.K., Brown, E.T., Deino, A.L., et al., 2017. The Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project: high-resolution paleoclimate records from the East African Rift System and their implications for understanding the environmental context of Hominin evolution. PaleoAnthropology 2017, 143.
Carto, S.L., Weaver, A.J., Hetherington, R., Lam, Y., Wiebe, E.C., 2009. Out of Africa and into an ice age: on the role of global climate change in the late Pleistocene expansion of early modern humans out of Africa. Journal of Human Evolution 56, 139151.
Castañeda, I.S., Mulitza, S., Schefuß, E., Santos, R.A.L., Damste, J.S.S., Schouten, S., 2009. Wet phases in the Sahara/Sahel region and human expansion patterns in North Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106, 15.
Chase, B.M., Faith, J.T., Mackay, A., Chevalier, M., Carr, A.S., Boom, A., Lim, S., Reimer, P.J., 2018. Climatic controls on Later Stone Age human adaptation in Africa’s southern Cape. Journal of Human Evolution 114, 3544.
Claussen, M., Kubatzki, C., Brovkin, V., Ganopolski, A., Hoelzmann, P., Pachur, H.J., 1999. Simulation of an abrupt change in Saharan vegetation in the Mid-Holocene. Geophysical Research Letters 26, 20372040.
Cohen, A., Campisano, C., Arrowsmith, R., Asrat, A., Behrensmeyer, A.K., Deino, A., Feibel, C., et al., 2016. The Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project: inferring the environmental context of human evolution from Eastern African Rift lake deposits. Scientific Drilling 21, 116.
Costa, K., Russell, J., Konecky, B., Lamb, H., 2014. Isotopic reconstruction of the African Humid Period and Congo Air Boundary migration at Lake Tana, Ethiopia. Quaternary Science Reviews 83, 5867.
Davidson, A., 1983. The Omo River project: reconnaissance geology and geochemistry of parts of Ilubabor, Kefa, Gemu Gofa and Sidamo. Ethiopian Institute of Geological Surveys Bulletin 2, 189.
deMenocal, P., Ortiz, J., Guilderson, T., Adkins, J., Sarnthein, M., Baker, L., Yarusinsky, M., 2000. Abrupt onset and termination of the African Humid Period: rapid climate responses to gradual insolation forcing. Quaternary Science Reviews 19, 347361.
Foerster, V., Junginger, A., Langkamp, O., Gebru, T., Asrat, A., Umer, M., Lamb, H., et al., 2012. Climatic change recorded in the sediments of the Chew Bahir basin, southern Ethiopia, during the last 45,000 yr. Quaternary International 274, 2537.
Foerster, V., Vogelsang, R., Junginger, A., Asrat, A., Lamb, H.F., Schaebitz, F., Trauth, M.H., 2015. Environmental change and human occupation of southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya during the last 20,000 yr. Quaternary Science Reviews 129, 333340.
Foerster, V., Vogelsang, R., Junginger, A., Asrat, A., Lamb, H.F., Schaebitz, F., Trauth, M.H., 2016. Reply to comment on “Environmental Change and Human Occupation of Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya during the last 20,000 years. Quaternary Science Reviews 129:333–340.” Quaternary Science Reviews 141, 130133.
Garcin, Y., 2008. Comment on “Abrupt change in tropical African climate linked to the bipolar seesaw over the past 55,000 yr” by Brown, E. T., Johnson, T. C., Scholz, C. A., Cohen, A. S., and King, J. W. (2007). Geophysical Research Letters 35, L04701. doi:10.1029/2007GL032399.
Garcin, Y., Vincens, A., Williamson, D., Buchet, G., Guiot, J. 2007. Abrupt resumption of the African Monsoon at the Younger Dryas-Holocene climatic transition.” Quaternary Science Reviews 26, 690704.
Gasse, F., 2000. Hydrological changes in the African tropics since the Last Glacial Maximum. Quaternary Science Reviews 19, 189211.
Hailemeskel, A., Fekadu, H., 2004. Geological map of Yabello. ISN 0000 0001 0674 8528. Geological Survey of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa.
Hassen, N., Yemane, T., Genzebu, W., 1997. Geology of the Agere Maryam Area. Geological Survey of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa.
Hildebrand, E., Brandt, S., Lesur-Gebremariam, J., 2010. The Holocene archaeology of southwest Ethiopia: new insights from the Kafa archaeological project. African Archaeological Review 27, 255289.
Hildebrand, E., Grillo, K., 2012. Early herders and monumental sites in eastern Africa: new radiocarbon dates. Antiquity 86, 338352.
Hotelling, H., 1931. Analysis of a complex of statistical variables with principal components. Journal of Educational Psychology 24, 417441.
Junginger, A., Trauth, M.H., 2013. Hydrological constraints of paleo-Lake Suguta in the Northern Kenya Rift during the African Humid Period (15–5 ka). Global and Planetary Change 111, 174188.
Key, R.M., 1987. Geology of the Sabarei area: degree sheets 3 and 4, with coloured 1:250 000 geological map and results of geochemical exploration (Report). Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Mines and Geology Department, Nairobi, Kenya.
Killick, R., Fearnhead, P., Eckley, I.A., 2012. Optimal detection of change points with a linear computational cost. Journal of the American Statistical Association 107, 15901598.
Kröpelin, S., Verschuren, D., Lézine, A.-M., 2008a. Response to comment by Brovkin and Claussen on “Climate-driven ecosystem succession in the Sahara: the past 6000 Yr.” Science 322, 1326.
Kröpelin, S., Verschuren, D., Lézine, A.-M., Eggermont, H., Cocquyt, C., Francus, P., Cazet, J.-P., et al., 2008b. Climate-driven ecosystem succession in the Sahara: the past 6000 Yr. Science 320, 765768.
Kuper, R., Kröpelin, S., 2006. Climate-controlled Holocene occupation in the Sahara: motor of Africa’s Evolution. Science 313, 803–307.
Kutzbach, J.E., Street-Perrott, F.A., 1985. Milankovitch forcing of fluctuations in the level of tropical lakes from 18 to 0 ka. Nature 317, 130134.
Lamb, H.F., Bates, C.R., Bryant, C.L., Davies, S.J., Huws, D.G., Marshall, M.H., Roberts, H.M., 2018. 150,000-year palaeoclimate record from northern Ethiopia supports early, multiple dispersals of modern humans from Africa. Scientific Reports 8, 1077.
Lamb, H.F., Bates, C.R., Coombes, P.V., Marshall, M.H., Umer, M., Davies, S.J., Dejen, E., 2007. Late Pleistocene desiccation of Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile. Quaternary Science Reviews 26, 287299.
MathWorks. 2017a. MATLAB Signal Processing Toolbox: User’s Guide. The MathWorks, Natick, MA.
MathWorks. 2017b. MATLAB Statistics Toolbox: User’s Guide. The MathWorks, Natick, MA.
Moore, J.M., Davidson, A., 1978. Rift structure in southern Ethiopia. Tectonophysics 46, 159173.
Nicholson, S.E., 2017. Climate and climatic variability of rainfall over eastern Africa. Reviews of Geophysics 55, 590635.
North Greenland Ice Core Project members. 2004. High-resolution record of northern hemisphere climate extending into the last interglacial period. Nature 431, 147151.
Otto-Bliesner, B.L., Russell, J.M., Clark, P.U., Liu, Z., Overpeck, J.T., Konecky, B., deMenocal, P., Nicholson, S.E., He, F., Lu, Z., 2014. Coherent changes of southeastern equatorial and northern African rainfall during the last deglaciation. Science 346, 12231227.
Paliwal, K.K., Agarwal, A., Sinha, S.S., 1982. A modification over Sakoe and Chiba’s dynamic time warping algorithm for isolated word recognition. Signal Processing 4, 329333.
Pearson, K., 1901. On lines and planes of closest fit to a system of points in space. Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science 6, 559572.
Reimer, P.J., Bard, E., Bayliss, A., Beck, J.W., Blackwell, P.G., Bronk Ramsey, C., Buck, C.E., et al., 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 Radiocarbon Age Calibration Curves 0–50,000 Yr cal BP. Radiocarbon 55, 18691887.
Roberts, N., Taieb, M., Barker, P., Damnati, B., Icole, M., Williamson, D., 1993. Timing of the Younger Dryas event in east Africa from lake-level changes. Nature 366, 146148.
Sakoe, H., Chiba, S., 1978. Dynamic Programming Algorithm Optimization for Spoken Word Recognition. IEEE Transactions on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing ASSP-26, 4349.
Shanahan, T.M., McKay, N.P., Hughen, K.A., Overpeck, J.T., Otto-Bliesner, B., Heil, C.W., King, J., Scholz, C.A., Peck, J., 2015. The time-transgressive termination of the African Humid Period. Nature Geoscience 8, 140144.
Tierney, J.E., deMenocal, P.B., 2013. Abrupt shifts in Horn of Africa. hydroclimate since the Last Glacial Maximum. Science 342, 843846.
Tierney, J.E., deMenocal, P.B., Zander, P.D., 2017. A climatic context for the out-of-Africa migration. Geology 45, 10231026.
Tierney, J.E., Russell, J.M., Huang, Y., Sinninghe Damste, J.S., Hopmans, E.C., Cohen, A.S., 2008. Northern Hemisphere controls on tropical southeast African climate during the past 60,000 years. Science 322, 252255.
Trauth, M.H., Bergner, A.G.N., Foerster, V., Junginger, A., Maslin, M.A., Schaebitz, F., 2015. Episodes of environmental stability and instability in Late Cenozoic lake records of eastern Africa. Journal of Human Evolution 87, 2131.
Vogelsang, R., Keding, B., 2013. Climate, culture, and change: From hunters to herders in northeastern and southwestern Africa. In: Baldia, M.O., Perttula, T.K., Frink, D.S. (Eds.), Comparative Archaeology and Paleoclimatology: Socio-cultural Responses to a Changing World. BAR International Series, 2456. Archaeopress, Oxford, pp. 4362.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Abrupt or gradual? Change point analysis of the late Pleistocene–Holocene climate record from Chew Bahir, southern Ethiopia

  • Martin H. Trauth (a1), Verena Foerster (a2), Annett Junginger (a3), Asfawossen Asrat (a4), Henry F. Lamb (a5) and Frank Schaebitz (a2)...


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.