An uncertainty-focused database approach to extract spatiotemporal trends from qualitative and discontinuous lake-status histories

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Gijs De Cort , Manuel Chevalier , Sallie L. Burrough , Christine Y Chen , Sandy P. Harrison 


Changes in lake status are often interpreted as palaeoclimate indicators due to their dependence on precipitation and evaporation. The Global Lake Status Database (GLSDB) has since long provided a standardised synopsis of qualitative lake status over the last 30,000 14C years. Potential sources of uncertainty however are not recorded in the GLSDB. Here we present an updated and improved relational-database framework that incorporates uncertainty in both chronology and the interpretation of palaeoenvironmental data. The database uses peer-reviewed palaeolimnological studies to produce a consensus on qualitative lake-status histories, whose chronologies are revised and standardized through the recalibration of radiocarbon dates and the application of Bayesian age-depth modelling for stratigraphic archives. Quantitative information on absolute water-level elevation is preserved if available from geomorphological sources. We also propose a new probabilistic analytical framework that accounts for these uncertainties to reconstruct synoptic, integrated environmental signals. The process is based on a Monte Carlo algorithm that iteratively samples individual lake-status histories within the limits of their uncertainties to produce many possible scenarios. We then use Recursively-Subtracted Empirical Orthogonal Function analysis to extract dominant patterns of lake-status variability from these scenarios.
As a proof of concept, we apply this framework to 67 sites in eastern and southern Africa whose lake-status histories cover part of the late Pleistocene and/or Holocene. We show that, despite the sometimes large temporal and interpretation uncertainties, and the inclusion of highly discontinuous lake-status time series, identifying the major known millennial-scale climatic phases during the last 20,000 years is possible. Our framework was also able to identify an antiphased response between the lake basins in eastern and interior southern Africa to these changes. We propose that our new database and methodology framework serves as a template for efficient lake-status data synthesis, encourages the incorporation of lake-status data in more palaeoclimate syntheses, and expands the possibilities for the use of such data in the evaluation of climate models.



Climate, Earth Sciences, Geology, Geomorphology, Hydrology, Longitudinal Data Analysis and Time Series, Other Earth Sciences, Sedimentology, Statistical Methodology, Stratigraphy


Quaternary, Africa, Lake status, Lake level, Palaeoclimatology, Relational database, Monte Carlo algorithm, Recursively-Subtracted Empirical Orthogonal Function


Published: 2021-03-01 04:22

Last Updated: 2021-03-01 12:22


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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