Half-precessional dynamics of monsoon rainfall near the East African Equator

Dirk Verschuren, Jaap Sinninghe Damsté, Jasper Moernaut, Iris Kirsten, Maarten Blaauw, Maureen Fagot, Gerald Haug, Bas Van Geel, Marc De Batist, Edward Keppens, Norbert Nowaczyk

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228 Citations (Scopus)


External climate forcings--such as long-term changes in solar insolation--generate different climate responses in tropical and high latitude regions1. Documenting the spatial and temporal variability of past climates is therefore critical for understanding how such forcings are translated into regional climate variability. In contrast to the data-rich middle and high latitudes, high-quality climate-proxy records from equatorial regions are relatively few , especially from regions experiencing the bimodal seasonal rainfall distribution associated with twice-annual passage of the Intertropical Convergence Zone. Here we present a continuous and well-resolved climate-proxy record of hydrological variability during the past 25,000 years from equatorial East Africa. Our results, based on complementary evidence from seismic-reflection stratigraphy and organic biomarker molecules in the sediment record of Lake Challa near Mount Kilimanjaro, reveal that monsoon rainfall in this region varied at half-precessional (11,500-year) intervals in phase with orbitally controlled insolation forcing. The southeasterly and northeasterly monsoons that advect moisture from the western Indian Ocean were strengthened in alternation when the inter-hemispheric insolation gradient was at a maximum; dry conditions prevailed when neither monsoon was
intensified and modest local March or September insolation weakened the rain season that followed. On sub-millennial timescales, the temporal pattern of hydrological change on the East African Equator bears clear high-northern-latitude signatures, but on the orbital timescale it mainly responded to low-latitude insolation forcing. Predominance of low-latitude climate processes in this monsoon region can be attributed to the low-latitude position of its continental regions of surface air flow convergence, and its relative isolation from the Atlantic Ocean, where prominent meridional overturning circulation more tightly couples low-latitude climate regimes to high-latitude boundary conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)637-641
Number of pages5
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2009


  • palaeoclimate
  • lake sediments
  • climate-proxy record
  • organic biomarker molecules
  • seismic-reflection stratigraphy


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