Stalagmite evidence for Early Holocene multidecadal hydroclimate variability in Ethiopia

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Asfawossen Asrat, Andy Baker , Wuhui Duan, Melanie Leng, Ian Boomer , Rabeya Akter, Grégoire Mariéthoz , Lewis Adler, Catherine Jex , Meklit Yadeta, Lisheng Wang


A multiproxy oxygen and carbon isotope (d13C and d18O), growth rate and trace element stalagmite paleoenvironmental record is presented for the Early Holocene from Achere Cave, Ethiopia. The annually laminated stalagmite grew from 10.6 to 10.4 ka, and from 9.7 to 9.0 ka with a short hiatus at ~9.25 ka. Using oxygen and carbon isotopic, and cave monitoring data, we demonstrate that the stalagmite deposition is out of isotopic equilibrium, yet trace element and isotope geochemistry is sensitive to hydroclimate variability. Variogram analysis of annual growth rate data suggests that this proxy can only contain hydroclimate information over less than 28-year timescales. Statistically significant and coherent spectral frequencies in d13C and d18O are observed at 15-25 and 19-23 years respectively. Combined with compelling evidence for deposition out of isotope equilibrium, the observed ~1 ‰ amplitude variability in stalagmite d18O is likely forced by non-equilibrium deposition, likely due to kinetic effects during the progressive degassing of CO2 from the water film during stalagmite formation. These frequencies are similar to the periodicity reported for Holocene stalagmite records from Ethiopian caves, suggesting that multidecadal variability in stalagmite d18O is typical. We hypothesise that a hydroclimate forcing, such as runs of one or more years of low annual rainfall, is likely to be the primary control on the extent of the partial evaporation of soil and shallow epikarst water, which is subsequently modulated by karst hydrology, and the extent of in-cave non-equilibrium stalagmite deposition. Combined with possible recharge-biases in drip water d18O, modulated by karst hydrology, these processes can generate multidecadal d18O variability which can operate with opposite signs. Comparison of Early Holocene d18O stalagmite records from the monsoon regions of Ethiopia, Oman and central China show different multi-decadal d18O signals, implying regional difference in climate forcing. Seismic activities due to the active tectonics in the region control the frequency of growth gaps (hiatuses) by changing the water flow paths to the stalagmite.



Geochemistry, Geology, Speleology


oxygen isotopes, paleoclimate, eastern Africa, multidecadal climate variability


Published: 2021-09-22 03:46

Last Updated: 2021-09-22 07:46


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Conflict of interest statement:

Data Availability (Reason not available):
All except isotope data in paper. Isotope data to be archived at global data archive on publication