Late Holocene linkages between decade-century scale climate variability and productivity at Lake Tanganyika, Africa

Andrew S. Cohen, Kiram E. Lezzar, Julia Cole, David Dettman, Geoffrey S. Ellis, Meagan Eagle Gonneea, Pierre Denis Plisnier, Victor Langenberg, Maarten Blaauw, Derrick Zilifi

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40 Scopus citations


Microlaminated sediment cores from the Kalya slope region of Lake Tanganyika provide a near-annually resolved paleoclimate record between ∼2,840 and 1,420 cal. yr B.P. demonstrating strong linkages between climate variability and lacustrine productivity. Laminae couplets comprise dark, terrigenous-dominated half couplets, interpreted as low density underflows deposited from riverine sources during the rainy season, alternating with light, planktonic diatomaceous ooze, with little terrigenous component, interpreted as windy/dry season deposits. Laminated portions of the studied cores consist of conspicuous dark and light colored bundles of laminae couplets. Light and dark bundles alternate at decadal time scales. Within dark bundles, both light and dark half couplets are significantly thinner than within light bundles, implying slower sediment accumulation rates during both seasons over those intervals. Time series analyses of laminae thickness patterns demonstrate significant periodicities at interannual-centennial time scales. Longer time scale periodicities (multidecadal to centennial scale) of light and dark half couplet thicknesses are coherent and in some cases are similar to solar cycle periods on these time scales. Although laminae thickness cycles do not strongly covary with the actual Δ14C record for this same time period, two large Δ14C anomalies are associated with substantial decreases in both light and dark laminae thickness. In contrast to the multidecadal- centennial time scale, significant annual to decadal periodicities, which are broadly consistent with ENSO/PDO forcing and their impact on East African climate, are not coherent between light and dark half couplets. The coherency of light-dark couplets at decadal-centennial time scales, but not at shorter time scales, is consistent with a model of a long-term relationship between precipitation (recorded in wet season dark laminae thickness) and productivity (light laminae thickness), which is not manifest at shorter time scales. We hypothesize that this coupling results from long-term recharging of internal nutrient loading during wet periods (higher erosion of soil P) and reduced loading during drought intervals. The relationship is not expressed on short time scales during which the dominant control on productivity is wind-driven, dry season upwelling, which is uncorrelated with wet-season precipitation. Our record greatly extends the temporal record of this quasi-periodic behavior throughout the late Holocene and provides the first evidence linking decade- to century-scale episodes of enhanced productivity to enhanced precipitation levels and nutrient recharge in a productive tropical lake.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-209
Number of pages21
JournalHandbook of Environmental Chemistry, Volume 5: Water Pollution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2006


  • ENSO
  • Holocene paleoclimate
  • Lake Tanganyika
  • Paleoproductivity
  • Solar forcing of climate
  • Varves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Aquatic Science


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