Located at the interface between the temperate westerly and sub-tropical climate systems, South Africa's winter rainfall zone (WRZ) is a key location in understanding Late Quaternary atmospheric circulation dynamics. Inactive eolian deposits in the WRZ, comprising pan-fringing lunette and coastal dunes, were investigated to establish their depositional ages and utility as paleoenvironmental indicators. The resulting optical luminescence chronology reveals episodic lunette accretion at 60,000–45,000 yr, 12,000–13,000 yr, 2800–2600 yr, 1200 yr, and <1000 yr, with coastal dune ages clustering at 4100–4700 yr.
Episodes of lunette and coastal dune accretion on the Agulhas Plain are temporally distinct, reflecting differing fundamental controls on their activity. Comparisons to previously published data also reveal that the lunettes differ in age from more ancient coastal eolianites. Lunette deposition is asynchronous between locations, reflecting the topographic and hydrological setting of the individual pans. In near-coastal settings, with limited surface recharge, lunette accretion appears to be at least partially controlled by sea level induced changes in groundwater levels. Those pans with more significant surface recharge (particularly from fluvial systems) may produce less ambiguous paleoenvironmental records, with pan status more strongly reflecting regional hydrological conditions. Lunette orientation is indicative of strong westerly winds during both the Pleistocene and Holocene. Lunette accretion would have been promoted by reduced on-shore moisture transport during the summer months, enhancing rainfall seasonality. Such conditions would have been promoted by increased continentality as the Agulhas Bank was exposed during low sea level stands.