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A record of rapid Holocene climate change preserved in hyrax middens from southwestern Africa


Dassie (Cape Hyrax), Table mountain, Cape Town. Photo by Anthony Steele, wikimedia commons.

A record of rapid Holocene climate change preserved in hyrax middens from southwestern Africa

Geology
Vol. 37, No. 8, pp. 703-706, August 2009.
doi: 10.1130/G30053A.1.

Chase, B.M.1,2, M.E. Meadows2, L. Scott3, D.S.G. Thomas1, E. Marais4, J. Sealy5, and P.J. Reimer6
1Arid Environmental Systems Research Group, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK
2Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, University of Cape Town, Private Bag X3, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
3Department of Plant Sciences, University of the Free State, PO Box 339, Bloemfontein 9300, South Africa
4National Museum of Namibia, P.O. Box 1203, Windhoek 9000, Namibia
5Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town, Private Bag, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
6School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN, Northern Ireland, UK
ABSTRACT:
The discovery of sensitive paleoenvironmental proxies contained within fossilized rock hyrax middens from the margin of the central Namib Desert, Africa, is providing unprecedented insight into the region's environmental history. High-resolution stable carbon and nitrogen isotope records spanning 0-11,700 cal (calibrated) yr B.P. indicate phases of relatively humid conditions from 8700-7500, 6900-6700, 5600-4900, and 4200-3500 cal yr B.P., with a period of marked aridity occurring from 3500 until ca. 300 cal yr B.P. Transitions between these phases appear to have occurred very rapidly, often within <200 years. Of particular importance are: (1) the observed relationship between regional aridification and the decline in Northern Hemisphere insolation across the Holocene, and (2) the significance of suborbital scale variations in climate that covary strongly with fluctuations in solar forcing. Together, these elements call for a fundamental reexamination of the role of orbital forcing on tropical African systems, and a reconsideration of what factors drive climate change in the region. The quality and resolution of these data far surpass any other evidence available from the region, and the continued development of this unique archive promises to revolutionize paleoenvironmental studies in southern Africa.
Download data from the WDC Paleo archive:
Southwestern Africa Rock Hyrax Midden Stable Isotope Data, Text or Excel format.

To read or view the full study, please visit the GSA website.
It was published in Geology, Vol. 37, No. 8, pp. 703-706, August 2009.

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