Climate Dynamics

, Volume 52, Issue 3–4, pp 1949–1964 | Cite as

Modern drought conditions in western Sahel unprecedented in the past 1600 years

  • Matthieu CarréEmail author
  • Moufok Azzoug
  • Paul Zaharias
  • Abdoulaye Camara
  • Rachid Cheddadi
  • Manuel Chevalier
  • Denis Fiorillo
  • Amadou T. Gaye
  • Serge Janicot
  • Myriam Khodri
  • Alban Lazar
  • Claire E. Lazareth
  • Juliette Mignot
  • Nancy Mitma García
  • Nicolas Patris
  • Océane Perrot
  • Malick Wade


As climate model uncertainties remain very large for future rainfall in the Sahel, a multi-centennial perspective is required to assess the situation of current Sahel climate in the context of global warming. We present here the first record of hydroclimatic variability over the past 1600 years in Senegal, obtained from stable oxygen isotope analyses (δ18O) in archaeological shell middens from the Saloum Delta. During the preindustrial period, the region was relatively humid, with maximum humidity reached during the period from AD 1500 to AD 1800, referred to as the Little Ice Age. A significant negative link is observed at the centennial scale between global temperature and humidity in the Sahel that is at odds with the expected effects of latitudinal shifts of the intertropical convergence zone during the last millennium. In the context of the past 1600 years, the Western Sahel appears to be experiencing today unprecedented drought conditions. The rapid aridification that started ca. AD 1800 and the recent emergence of Sahel drought from the natural variability point to an anthropogenic forcing of Sahel drying trend. This new long-term perspective suggests that the recovery of Sahel rainfall in the last decade may only result from short-term internal variability, and supports climate models that predict an increase of Sahel drought under future greenhouse climate.


West African Monsoon Climate change Paleoclimate Shell middens 



The authors are thankful to César Tendeng, Ansu Mane, Iba Ndiaye, and Bernard Bassène for their assistance with fieldwork. We are thankful to Cyr Descamps for sharing his knowledge on archaeological shell middens. We thank the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) in Senegal for the logistical support during field trips. We thank Andrew Schauer and Marie Balasse for their support with isotopic analyses, Sharon Nicholson for her valuable comments on the manuscript, and two anonymous reviewers. This research was funded by the University of Montpellier, the French CNRS-Institut National des Sciences de l’Univers through the LEFE program, and the ANR-Belmont Forum PACMEDY project (ANR-15-JCLI-0003-01).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 23 KB)
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthieu Carré
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Moufok Azzoug
    • 3
  • Paul Zaharias
    • 4
  • Abdoulaye Camara
    • 5
  • Rachid Cheddadi
    • 6
  • Manuel Chevalier
    • 7
  • Denis Fiorillo
    • 8
  • Amadou T. Gaye
    • 9
  • Serge Janicot
    • 1
  • Myriam Khodri
    • 1
  • Alban Lazar
    • 1
  • Claire E. Lazareth
    • 1
  • Juliette Mignot
    • 1
  • Nancy Mitma García
    • 6
  • Nicolas Patris
    • 10
  • Océane Perrot
    • 6
  • Malick Wade
    • 11
  1. 1.LOCEAN LaboratorySorbonne Universités (UPMC, Univ Paris 06)-CNRS-IRD-MNHNParisFrance
  2. 2.CIDIS-LID-Facultad de Ciencias y Filosofía-Universidad Peruana Cayetano HerediaLimaPeru
  3. 3.Département de Génie des Procédés, Faculté de TechnologieUniversité de BejaiaBejaïaAlgeria
  4. 4.ISYEB-UMR 7205-CNRS, MNHN, UPMC (Université Paris 6), EPHE-Muséum National d’Histoire NaturelleSorbonne UniversitésParisFrance
  5. 5.Institut Fondamental d’Afrique NoireUniversité Cheikh Anta DiopDakarSenegal
  6. 6.CNRS-UM-IRD-EPHE, Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de MontpellierMontpellierFrance
  7. 7.Institut des Dynamiques de la Surface TerrestreUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  8. 8.CNRS-MNHN, Archéozoologie, Archéobotanique: Sociétés, Pratiques et EnvironnementsParisFrance
  9. 9.Institut PolytechniqueUniversité Cheikh Anta DiopDakarSenegal
  10. 10.IRD-CNRS-UM, Hydrosciences MontpellierMontpellierFrance
  11. 11.Laboratoire de Physique de l’Atmosphere et de l’Ocean Simeon FongangUniversité Cheikh Anta DiopDakarSenegal

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