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A nearshore core (LT03-05) from the north basin of Lake Tanganyika provides diatom, pollen, and sedimentary time series covering the last ca. 3800 yr at 15–36 yr resolution. A chronology supported by 21 AMS dates on terrestrial and lacustrine materials allows us to account for ancient carbon effects on 14C ages and to propose refinements of the region's climatic history. Conditions drier than those of today were followed after ca. 3.30 ka by an overall wetting trend. Several century-scale climate variations were superimposed upon that trend, with exceptionally rainy conditions occurring 1.70–1.40 ka, 1.15–0.90 ka, 0.70–0.55 ka, and 0.35–0.20 ka. Around 0.55–0.35 ka, during the Spörer sunspot minimum, drier conditions developed in the northern Tanganyika basin while more humid conditions were registered at Lakes Victoria and Naivasha. This indicates significant variability in the nature and distribution of near-equatorial rainfall anomalies during much of the Little Ice Age.
Although the dramatic climate disruptions of the last glacial period have received considerable attention, relatively little has been directed toward climate variability in the Holocene (11,500 cal yr B.P. to the present). Examination of ?50 globally distributed paleoclimate records reveals as many as six periods of significant rapid climate change during the time periods 9000"8000, 6000"5000, 4200"3800, 3500"2500, 1200"1000, and 600"150 cal yr B.P. Most of the climate change events in these globally distributed records are characterized by polar cooling, tropical aridity, and major atmospheric circulation changes, although in the most recent interval (600"150 cal yr B.P.), polar cooling was accompanied by increased moisture in some parts of the tropics. Several intervals coincide with major disruptions of civilization, illustrating the human significance of Holocene climate variability.
Sediment and microfossil analyses of a 7.5-m core from Lake Cheshi suggest that south-central Africa experienced late Quaternary climate changes similar to those in East Africa. The lake formed around 34,000 yr B.P., after a prelacustrine phase of at least 6000 yr, from climatic or tectonic causes. Ratios of precipitation to evaporation were probably similar to those of today until a decline about 15,000–13,000 yr B.P. when the lake shrank and became chemically concentrated. Maximal lake levels occurred between 8000 and 4000 yr B.P., and were followed by a low stand under presumably arid conditions about 3500 yr B.P. Encroachment of sudd vegetation contributed to shallowing during the last 3000 yr. A phase of microfossil dilution may reflect human activity in the basin, or climatic or hydrological changes. Melosira valve morphology seems to reflect mixing regimes. Sponge and testate amoeba remains were most numerous relative to diatoms during low-water phases.
A new diatom record from Lake Victoria’s Pilkington Bay, subsampled at 21- to 25-year intervals and supported by 20 AMS dates, reveals a ∼10,000 calendar year environmental history that is supported by published diatom and pollen data from two nearby sites. With their chronologies adjusted here to account for newly documented ancient carbon effects in the lake, these three records provide a coherent, finely resolved reconstruction of Holocene climate change in equatorial East Africa. After an insolation-induced rainfall maximum ca. 8800–8300 cal yr B.P., precipitation became more seasonal and decreased abruptly ca. 8200 and 5700 yr B.P. in apparent association with northern deglaciation events. Century-scale rainfall increases occurred ca. 8500, 7000, 5800, and 4000 yr B.P. Conditions after 2700 yr B.P. were generally similar to those of today, but major droughts occurred ca. 1200–600 yr B.P. during Europe’s Medieval Warm Period.
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