Late Holocene precipitation variability in the summer rainfall region of South Africa

J. Curt Stager, David B. Ryves, Christiaan King, Jerome Madson, Matthew Hazzard, Frank H. Neumann, Rodney Maud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


The late Holocene history of the South African summer rainfall zone offers insights into the effects of climate on ecosystems and human societies, as well as into the accuracy of model projections of the future. However, some important aspects of this region's climatic history remain unresolved. Here we present new high-resolution diatom records representing hydrological fluctuations at Lake Sibaya, KwaZulu-Natal, during the last 1800 years. The cores were dated with 14C, 210Pb, 137Cs, and exotic pollen, and were sampled at increments of 1-22 years. A low stand ending ∼AD 150 was followed by additional decadal to century-scale droughts, most notably ∼AD 1540-1760, and several periods of markedly wetter conditions ∼AD 220-290, AD 790-830, AD 1470-1540, and AD 1760-1860. The Medieval Climate Anomaly was generally wetter than average and the Little Ice Age was generally drier, but hydroclimate during both intervals was highly variable. These records confirm that local tree ring and stalagmite gray scale series represent rainfall variability, but they also show that widely cited stable isotope series from Makapansgat do not represent past climate as clearly. Because many interpretations of the climatic history of southern Africa have been influenced by those isotope data, we re-examine late Holocene precipitation variability in the summer rainfall zone, and also address model projections of future precipitation in the region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-120
Number of pages16
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - May 1 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thanks to R. Leuci, W. Kidwell, and J. Fitzpatrick for logistical support in the field, and to B. Cumming, A. Myrbo, and LacCore staff for advice and assistance in pollen dating. K. Holmgren provided helpful comments on the original manuscript. This research was supported by National Science Foundation grants ATM-0401845 and EAR-0822922 .

Copyright 2013 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Climate change
  • Diatoms
  • Holocene
  • ITCZ
  • Lake Sibaya
  • Paleoclimatology
  • Paleolimnology
  • South Africa
  • Speleothem
  • Stable isotopes


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