Scientific drilling in the Great Rift Valley: The 2005 Lake Malawi Scientific Drilling Project - An overview of the past 145,000years of climate variability in Southern Hemisphere East Africa

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The recovery of detailed and continuous paleoclimate records from the interior of the African continent has long been of interest for understanding climate dynamics of the tropics, and also for constraining the environmental backdrop to the evolution and spread of early Homo sapiens. In 2005 an international team of scientists collected a series of scientific drill cores from Lake Malawi, the first long and continuous, high-fidelity records of tropical climate change from interior East Africa. The paleoclimate records, which include lithostratigraphic, geochemical, geophysical and paleobiological observations documented in this special issue of Palaeo3, indicate an interval of high-amplitude climate variability between 145,000 and ~60,000years ago, when several severe arid intervals reduced Lake Malawi's volume by more than 95%. These intervals of pronounced tropical African aridity in the early Late Pleistocene around Lake Malawi were much more severe than the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), a well-documented period of drought in equatorial and Northern Hemisphere tropical east Africa. After 70,000years ago climate shifted to more humid conditions and lake levels rose. During this latter interval however, wind patterns shifted rapidly, and perhaps synchronously with high-latitude shifts and changes in thermohaline circulation. This transition to wetter, more stable conditions coincided with diminished orbital eccentricity, and a reduction in precession-dominated climatic extremes. The observed climate mode switch to decreased environmental variability is consistent with terrestrial and marine records from in and around tropical Africa. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.

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Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology