Loughborough University
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Ugandan crater lakes: limnology, palaeolimnology and palaeoenvironmental history

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posted on 2013-09-30, 15:39 authored by Keely Mills
This thesis presents the results of contemporary limnological and palaeolimnological investigations of a series of crater lakes in order to reconstruct the palaeoenvironmental history of western Uganda, East Africa. The research examines questions of spatial and temporal heterogeneity of climate changes in the context of growing human impacts on the landscape over the last millennium. Sediment records from two lakes, Nyamogusingiri and Kyasanduka within the Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) were investigated to look at the long term records of climate and environmental change (spanning the last c. 1000 years). Five shorter cores across a land-use gradient were retrieved to assess the impact of human activity on the palaeoenvironmental record over the last ~150 years. High-resolution (sub-decadal), multiproxy analyses of lake sediment cores based on diatoms, bulk geochemistry (C/N and δ13C) and sedimentary variables (loss-on-ignition, magnetic properties and physical properties) provide independent lines of evidence that allow the reconstruction of past climate and environmental changes. This multiproxy approach provides a powerful means to reconstruct past environments, whilst the multi-lake approach assists in the identification and separation of local (e.g. catchment-scale modifications and groundwater influences) and regional effects (e.g. climatic changes). The results of a modern limnological survey of 24 lakes were used in conjunction with diatom surface sediment samples (and corresponding water chemistry) from 64 lakes across a natural conductivity gradient in western Uganda (reflecting a regional climatic gradient of effective moisture) to explore factors controlling diatom distribution. The relationships between water chemistry and diatom distributions were explored using canonical correspondence analysis (CCA) and partial CCA. Variance partitioning indicated that conductivity accounted for a significant and independent portion of this variation. A transfer function was developed for conductivity (r2jack = 0.74). Prediction errors, estimated using jack-knifing, are low for the conductivity model (0.256 log units). The final model was applied to the core sediment data.This study highlights the potential for diatom-based quantitative palaeoenvironmental reconstructions from the crater lakes in western Uganda. Sedimentary archives from the Ugandan crater lakes can provide high-resolution, annual to sub-decadal records of environmental change. Whilst all of the lakes studied here demonstrate an individualistic response to external (e.g. climatic) drivers, the broad patterns observed in Uganda and across East Africa suggest that the crater lakes are indeed sensitive to climatic perturbations such as a dry Mediaeval Warm Period (MWP; AD 1000-1200) and a relatively drier climate during the main phase of the Little Ice Age (LIA; c. AD 1500-1800); though lake levels in western Uganda do fluctuate, with a high stand c. AD 1575-1600). The general trends support the hypothesis of an east to west (wet to dry) gradient across East Africa during the LIA, however, the relationship breaks down and is more complex towards the end of the LIA (c. AD 1700-1750) when the inferred changes in lake levels at Nyamogusingiri and Kyasanduka are synchronous with changes observed at Lakes Naivasha (Kenya) and Victoria and diverge from local lake level records (from Edward, Kasenda and Wandakara). Significant changes in the lake ecosystems have occurred over the last 50-75 years, with major shifts in diatom assemblages to benthic-dominated systems and an inferred increase in nutrient levels. These changes are coincident with large sediment influx to the lakes, perhaps as a result of increasing human activity within many of the lake catchments.



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  • Geography and Environment


© Keely Mills

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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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