Past hydrological changes in Africa have been linked to various climatic processes, depending on region and timescale. Long-term precipitation changes in the regions of northern and southern Africa influenced by the monsoons are thought to have been governed by precessional variations in summer insolation. Conversely, short-term precipitation changes in the northern African tropics have been linked to North Atlantic sea surface temperature anomalies, affecting the northward extension of the Intertropical Convergence Zone and its associated rainbelt. Our knowledge of large-scale hydrological changes in equatorial Africa and their forcing factors is, however, limited. Here we analyse the isotopic composition of terrigenous plant lipids, extracted from a marine sediment core close to the Congo River mouth, in order to reconstruct past central African rainfall variations and compare this record to sea surface temperature changes in the South Atlantic Ocean. We find that central African precipitation during the past 20,000 years was mainly controlled by the difference in sea surface temperatures between the tropics and subtropics of the South Atlantic Ocean, whereas we find no evidence that changes in the position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone had a significant influence on the overall moisture availability in central Africa. We conclude that changes in ocean circulation, and hence sea surface temperature patterns, were important in modulating atmospheric moisture transport onto the central African continent.
Wildfires and incomplete combustion of fossil fuel produce large amounts of black carbon. Black carbon production and transport are essential components of the carbon cycle. Constraining estimates of black carbon exported from land to ocean is critical, given ongoing changes in land use and climate, which affect fire occurrence and black carbon dynamics. Here, we present an inventory of the concentration and radiocarbon content (Δ 14C) of particulate black carbon for 18 rivers around the globe. We find that particulate black carbon accounts for about 15.8 ± 0.9% of river particulate organic carbon, and that fluxes of particulate black carbon co-vary with river-suspended sediment, indicating that particulate black carbon export is primarily controlled by erosion. River particulate black carbon is not exclusively from modern sources but is also aged in intermediate terrestrial carbon pools in several high-latitude rivers, with ages of up to 17,000 14C years. The flux-weighted 14C average age of particulate black carbon exported to oceans is 3,700 ± 400 14C years. We estimate that the annual global flux of particulate black carbon to the ocean is 0.017 to 0.037 Pg, accounting for 4 to 32% of the annually produced black carbon. When buried in marine sediments, particulate black carbon is sequestered to form a long-term sink for CO2.
A potential human footprint on Western Central African rainforests before the Common Era has become the focus of an ongoing controversy. Between 3,000 y ago and 2,000 y ago, regional pollen sequences indicate a replacement of mature rainforests by a forest-savannah mosaic including pioneer trees. Although some studies suggested an anthropogenic influence on this forest fragmentation, current interpretations based on pollen data attribute the ''rainforest crisis'' to climate change toward a drier, more seasonal climate. A rigorous test of this hypothesis, however, requires climate proxies independent of vegetation changes. Here we resolve this controversy through a continuous 10,500-y record of both vegetation and hydrological changes from Lake Barombi in Southwest Cameroon based on changes in carbon and hydrogen isotope compositions of plant waxes. [Formula: see text]C-inferred vegetation changes confirm a prominent and abrupt appearance of C plants in the Lake Barombi catchment, at 2,600 calendar years before AD 1950 (cal y BP), followed by an equally sudden return to rainforest vegetation at 2,020 cal y BP. [Formula: see text]D values from the same plant wax compounds, however, show no simultaneous hydrological change. Based on the combination of these data with a comprehensive regional archaeological database we provide evidence that humans triggered the rainforest fragmentation 2,600 y ago. Our findings suggest that technological developments, including agricultural practices and iron metallurgy, possibly related to the large-scale Bantu expansion, significantly impacted the ecosystems before the Common Era.
The past two million years of eastern African climate variability is currently poorly constrained, despite interest in understanding its assumed role in early human evolution. Rare palaeoclimate records from northeastern Africa suggest progressively drier conditions or a stable hydroclimate. By contrast, records from Lake Malawi in tropical southeastern Africa reveal a trend of a progressively wetter climate over the past 1.3 million years. The climatic forcings that controlled these past hydrological changes are also a matter of debate. Some studies suggest a dominant local insolation forcing on hydrological changes, whereas others infer a potential influence of sea surface temperature changes in the Indian Ocean. Here we show that the hydroclimate in southeastern Africa (20-25° S) is controlled by interplay between low-latitude insolation forcing (precession and eccentricity) and changes in ice volume at high latitudes. Our results are based on a multiple-proxy reconstruction of hydrological changes in the Limpopo River catchment, combined with a reconstruction of sea surface temperature in the southwestern Indian Ocean for the past 2.14 million years. We find a long-term aridification in the Limpopo catchment between around 1 and 0.6 million years ago, opposite to the hydroclimatic evolution suggested by records from Lake Malawi. Our results, together with evidence of wetting at Lake Malawi, imply that the rainbelt contracted toward the Equator in response to increased ice volume at high latitudes. By reducing the extent of woodland or wetlands in terrestrial ecosystems, the observed changes in the hydroclimate of southeastern Africa-both in terms of its long-term state and marked precessional variability-could have had a role in the evolution of early hominins, particularly in the extinction of Paranthropus robustus.
The initiation of the Benguela upwelling has been dated to the late Miocene, but estimates of its sea surface temperature evolution are not available. This study presents data from Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Site 1085 recovered from the southern Cape Basin. Samples of the middle Miocene to Pliocene were analyzed for alkenone‐based (U37K′, SSTUK) and glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraether (GDGT) based (TEX86, TempTEX) water temperature proxies. In concordance with global cooling during the Miocene, SSTUK and TempTEX exhibit a decline of about 8°C and 16°C, respectively. The temperature trends suggest an inflow of cold Antarctic waters triggered by Antarctic ice sheet expansion and intensification of Southern Hemisphere southeasterly winds. A temperature offset between both proxies developed with the onset of upwelling, which can be explained by differences in habitat: alkenone‐producing phytoplankton live in the euphotic zone and record sea surface temperatures, while GDGT‐producing Thaumarchaeota are displaced to colder subsurface waters in upwelling‐influenced areas and record subsurface water temperatures. We suggest that variations in subsurface water temperatures were driven by advection of cold Antarctic waters and thermocline adjustments that were due to changes in North Atlantic deep water formation. A decline in surface temperatures, an increased offset between temperature proxies, and an increase in primary productivity suggest the establishment of the Benguela upwelling at 10 Ma. During the Messinian Salinity Crisis, between 7 and 5 Ma, surface and subsurface temperature estimates became similar, likely because of a strong reduction in Atlantic overturning circulation, while high total organic carbon contents suggest a “biogenic bloom.” In the Pliocene the offset between the temperature estimates and the cooling trend was reestablished.
Terrestrial vegetation and soils hold three times more carbon than the atmosphere. Much debate concerns how anthropogenic activity will perturb these surface reservoirs, potentially exacerbating ongoing changes to the climate system. Uncertainties specifically persist in extrapolating point-source observations to ecosystem-scale budgets and fluxes, which require consideration of vertical and lateral processes on multiple temporal and spatial scales. To explore controls on organic carbon (OC) turnover at the river basin scale, we present radiocarbon (14C) ages on two groups of molecular tracers of plant-derived carbon—leaf-wax lipids and lignin phenols—from a globally distributed suite of rivers. We find significant negative relationships between the 14C age of these biomarkers and mean annual temperature and precipitation. Moreover, riverine biospheric-carbon ages scale proportionally with basin-wide soil carbon turnover times and soil 14C ages, implicating OC cycling within soils as a primary control on exported biomarker ages and revealing a broad distribution of soil OC reactivities. The ubiquitous occurrence of a long-lived soil OC pool suggests soil OC is globally vulnerable to perturbations by future temperature and precipitation increase. Scaling of riverine biospheric-carbon ages with soil OC turnover shows the former can constrain the sensitivity of carbon dynamics to environmental controls on broad spatial scales. Extracting this information from fluvially dominated sedimentary sequences may inform past variations in soil OC turnover in response to anthropogenic and/or climate perturbations. In turn, monitoring riverine OC composition may help detect future climate-change–induced perturbations of soil OC turnover and stocks.
Recent paleoclimatic studies suggest that changes in the tropical rainbelt across the Atlantic Ocean during the past two millennia are linked to a latitudinal shift of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) driven by the Northern Hemisphere (NH) climate. However, little is known regarding other potential drivers that can affect tropical Atlantic rainfall, mainly due to the scarcity of adequate and high-resolution records. In this study, we fill this gap by reconstructing precipitation changes in Northeastern Brazil during the last 2,300 years from a high-resolution lake record of hydrogen isotope compositions of plant waxes. We find that regional precipitation along the coastal area of South America was not solely governed by north-south displacements of the ITCZ due to changes in NH climate, but also by the contraction and expansion of the tropical rainbelt due to variations in sea surface temperature and southeast trade winds in the tropical South Atlantic Basin.
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