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Late Quaternary palaeolimnology and environmental change in the South Wollo Highlands, Ethiopia

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posted on 2016-06-06, 11:12 authored by Katie Loakes
Lake Hayq is a closed, freshwater basin on the eastern margin of the north-central highlands, Ethiopia. Using a sediment core extracted from the northern basin, this thesis aims to provide a high-resolution, detailed palaeolimnological reconstruction of changes to the environment and climate in the region since the late Pleistocene. A multi-proxy approach was applied, utilising diatoms, photosynthetic pigments and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry. Lithological and chronological analyses were also performed, as well as the development of a transfer function to model diatom-inferred conductivity, and other quantitative analyses. Between ~ 15.6 15.1 cal kyr BP, Lake Hayq experienced a lowstand, synchronous with the timing of Heinrich Event 1 and an intense drought across East Africa. At ~ 15.1 cal kyr BP a lake began to develop at the core site in response to wetter, more humid conditions, most likely caused by the reactivation of the African-Indian monsoonal circulation. This was abruptly ended however at ~ 14.7 cal kyr BP, as the climate shifted back towards aridity and Lake Hayq shallowed, in contrast to the majority of other East African lakes, which continued to refill. This most likely reflects changes to the Indian Ocean monsoon system caused by variability in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation at this time, in conjunction with site-specific mechanisms affecting the delivery of precipitation to Lake Hayq. At ~ 12.3 cal kyr BP the African Humid Period resumed over Lake Hayq and the lake refilled, reaching maximum water depth between ~ 12.0 10.0 cal kyr BP. The lake was dominated by planktonic diatom taxa and photosynthetic pigments indicate it was meromictic. Lake level gradually declined throughout the Holocene, culminating in the termination of the African Humid Period. A high-resolution study of the period tentatively suggests that climate flickering , in the form of oscillations between dominant diatom taxa, occurred in the build up to the major climatic shift. The termination spanned ~ 600 cal years between ~ 5.2 4.6 cal kyr BP. A lowstand occurred between ~ 3.9 2.2 cal kyr BP, during which the lake became occasionally subsaline. In the late Holocene, ~ 2.2 1.3 cal kyr BP, Lake Hayq became deep and fresh again, although there is evidence of lake level variability. The palaeo-record from Lake Hayq indicates that it broadly experienced the same high-latitude, glacial-interglacial dynamics and sub-millennial shifts in climate found in other palaeolimnological records from across East Africa. The precise timing and expression of these climatic events is not always synchronous between Lake Hayq and other East African waterbodies however, most likely caused by local, site-specific positive feedback mechanisms and variability in lake morphometry. This highlights the heterogeneous pattern of climate across the region and the significance of regional drivers. This palaeo-record, spanning the late Quaternary, will help bridge gaps in current knowledge and understanding of the underrepresented, climatically sensitive and vulnerable north Ethiopian highlands. This is vital for future climate change modelling and regional downscaling, and may also inform ethnographic-archaeological research in a region considered to be the cradle of humankind .



  • Social Sciences


  • Geography and Environment


© Katie Loakes

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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