Late Pleistocene temperature, hydrology, and glaciation in equatorial East Africa

Citation:
Olago D, Russell JM, Verschuren D, Kelly MA, Loomis SE, Jackson MS, Morrill C, Damsté SJS, et al. "Late Pleistocene temperature, hydrology, and glaciation in equatorial East Africa." American Geophysical Union, Fall General Assembly 2016. 2016.

Abstract:

In the coming century the world's high tropical mountains are predicted to experience a magnitude of climate change second only to the Arctic due to amplification of warming with elevation in the tropics. Proxy data suggest that substantial changes in tropical temperature and hydroclimate also occurred during the last deglaciation, the most recent time period when rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations caused large changes in global climate. Determining whether the rate of temperature change with elevation (the lapse rate) was different from today during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) is therefore critical to understanding the future of tropical mountain environments and resources. Here we present a new 25,000-year temperature reconstruction based upon organic geochemical analyses of sediment cores from Lake Rutundu (3,078 m asl), Mount Kenya, East Africa. Through comparison with regional reconstructions of lower elevation temperature, we show that LGM cooling was amplified with elevation and hence that the lapse rate was significantly steeper than today. Comparison of our lapse rate reconstructions with equilibrium line altitude reconstructions from glacial moraines indicates that temperature, rather than precipitation, was the dominant control on tropical alpine glacier fluctuations at this time scale. Nevertheless, our results have important implications for the tropical hydrological cycle, as changes in the lapse rate are intimately linked with changes in atmospheric water vapour concentrations. Indeed, we attribute the steeper lapse rate to drying of the tropical ice-age atmosphere, a hypothesis supported by palaeoclimate models. However, comparison of our data to these simulations indicates that state-of-the-art models significantly underestimate tropical temperature changes at high elevation and therefore the lapse-rate change. Consequently, future high-elevation tropical warming may be even greater than currently predicted.

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