Dryland dunes and other dryland environmental archives as proxies for Late Quaternary stratigraphy and environmental and climate change in southern Africa
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AbstractAbstract The Namib Desert and the Kalahari constitute the drylands of southern Africa, with the current relatively humid portions of the latter having experienced periodically drier conditions during the Late Quaternary. This study explores the range of dryland archives and proxies available for the past ~190 ka. These include classic dryland geomorphological proxies, such as sand dunes, as well as water-lain sediments within former lakes and ephemeral fluvial systems, lake shorelines, sand ramps, water-lain calcrete and tufa sediments at the interface of surface hydrological and hydrogeological, speleothems and groundwater hydrogeological records, and hyrax middens. Palaeoenvironmental evidence can also be contained within geoarchaeological archives in caves, overhangs and rockshelters. This integration of records is undertaken with the aim of identifying a (or a number of) terrestrial regional chronostratigraphic framework(s) for this time period within southern Africa, because this is missing from the Quaternary stratigraphy lexicon. Owing to a lack of long, near-continuous terrestrial sequences in these drylands, the correspondence between nearby terrestrial records are explored as a basis for parasequences to build this chronostratigraphy. Recognising the modern climatological diversity across the subcontinent, four broad spatial subdivisions are used to explore potential sub-regional parasequences, which capture current climatic gradients, including the hyper-arid west coast and the decrease in aridity from the southwest Kalahari toward the north and east. These are the Namib Desert, the northern Kalahari, the southern Kalahari and the eastern fringes of the southern Kalahari. Terrestrial chronostratigraphies must start from premise that climate-driven environmental shifts may have occurred independently to those in other terrestrial locations and may be diachronous compared to the marine oxygen isotope stratigraphy (MIS), which serves as a global-scale master climatostratigraphy relating to global ice volume. The fragmented nature of preserved evidence means that we are still some way from producing unambiguous parasequences. There is however, a rich record to consider, compile and compare, within which seven broad wetter intervals are identified, with breaks between these inferred to be relatively drier, and some also have proxy evidence for drying. The onset and cessation of these wetter intervals does not align with MIS: they occur with greater frequency, but not with regular periodicity. Precession-paced insolation forcing is often invoked as a key control on southern African climate, but this does not explain the pacing of all of the identified events. Overall, the pattern is complex with some corresponding wetter intervals across space and others with opposing west-east trends. The evidence for drying over the past 10 ka is pronounced in the west (Namib Desert), with ephemerally wet conditions in the south (southern Kalahari). The patterns identified here provide a framework to be scrutinised and to inspire refinements to proposed terrestrial chronostratigraphies for southern Africa. Considering changes across this large geographic area also highlights the complexity in environmental responses across space as we continue to test a range of hypotheses about the nature of climatic forcing in this region.
CitationSouth African Journal of Geology, volume 124, issue 4, page 927-962
PublisherGeological Society of South Africa
DescriptionFrom Crossref journal articles via Jisc Publications Router
History: ppub 2021-12-01, issued 2021-12-01
Publication status: Published