The relationship of sea-level changes and short-term climatic changes with turbidite deposition is poorly documented, although the mechanisms of gravity-driven sediment transport in submarine canyons during sea-level changes have been reported from many regions. This study focuses on the activity of the Dakar Canyon off southern Senegal in response to major glacial/interglacial sea-level shifts and variability in the NW-African continental climate. The sedimentary record from the canyon allows us to determine the timing of turbidite events and on the basis of XRF-scanning element data, we have identified the climate signal at a sub-millennial time scale from the surrounding hemipelagic sediments. Over the late Quaternary the highest frequency in turbidite activity in the Dakar Canyon is confined to major climatic terminations when remobilisation of sediments from the shelf was triggered by the eustatic sea-level rise. However, episodic turbidite events coincide with the timing of Heinrich events in the North Atlantic. During these times continental climate has changed rapidly, with evidence for higher dust supply over NW Africa which has fed turbidity currents. Increased aridity and enhanced wind strength in the southern Saharan–Sahelian zone may have provided a source for this dust.