Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 185–195 | Cite as

Climate Change in Southern and Eastern Africa During the Past Millennium and its Implications for Societal Development

  • Karin HolmgrenEmail author
  • Helena Öberg


Climatic records from equatorial eastern Africa and subtropical southern Africa have shown that both temperature and the amount of rainfall have varied over the past millennium. Moreover, the rainfall pattern in these regions varied inversely over long periods of time. Droughts started abruptly, were of multi-decadal to multi-centennial length and the changes in the hydrological budget were of large amplitude. Changing water resources in semi-arid regions clearly must have regional influences on both ecological and socio-economic processes. Through a detailed analysis of the historical and paleoclimatic evidence from southern and eastern Africa covering the past millennium it is shown that, depending on the vulnerability of a society, climatic variability can have an immense impact on societies, sometimes positive and sometimes disastrous. Therefore, the interconnected issue of world ecosystem and social resilience is the challenge for decision-makers if sustainable development is to be reached on global and local levels.


anti-phase relationship climate variability high-resolution climate time series social resilience vulnerability 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ballard, C. 1986‘Drought and economic distress: South Africa in the 1800s’Journal of Interdisciplinary History17359378Google Scholar
  2. Burgess, R.L., Jacobson, L. 1984‘Archaeological sediments from a shell midden near Wortel Dam Walvis Bay, southern Africa’Palaeoecology of Africa16429435Google Scholar
  3. Cole, J.E., Dunbar, R.B., McClanahan, T.R., Muthiga, N.A. 2000‘Tropical pacific forcing of decadal SST variability in the western Indian Ocean over the past two centuries’Science287617619CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Gasse, F. 2000‘Hydrological changes in the African tropics since the last glacial maximum’Quaternary Science Reviews19191211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Hall, M. 1987The Changing Past: Farmer, Kings and Traders in Southern Africa 200–1860James CurreyLondonGoogle Scholar
  6. Holmgren, K., Lee-Thorp, J.A., Cooper, G.J., Lundblad, K., Partridge, T.C., Scott, L., Sithaldeen, R., Talma, A.S., Tyson, P.D. 2003‘Persistent millennial-scale climatic variability over the past 25 thousand years in southern Africa’Quaternary Science Reviews2223112326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Holmgren, K., Moberg, A, Svanered, O., Tyson, P.D. 2001‘A preliminary 3000-year regional temperature reconstruction for South Africa’South African Journal of Science974951Google Scholar
  8. Huffman, T.N. 1989‘Ceramics settlements and late iron age migrations’African Archaeological Review7155182Google Scholar
  9. Huffman, T.N. 1996‘Archaeological evidence for climatic change during the last 2000 years in southern Africa’Quaternary International335560CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Huffman, T.N.: 2000, ‘Mapungubwe and the origins of the Zimbabwe culture’, in M. Leslie and T. Maggs (eds.), African Naissance: The Limpopo Valley 1000 years Ago, The South African Archaeological Society, Goodwin Series, 8, pp. 14–29Google Scholar
  11. Huffman, T.N., Herbert, R.K. 1994‘New perspectives on eastern Bantu’Azania292736Google Scholar
  12. Iliffe, J. 1995Africans, the History of a ContinentCambridge University PressCambridgeGoogle Scholar
  13. Jackson, K. 1976‘The dimensions of Kamba pre-colonial history’Ogot, B.A. eds. Kenya Before 1900: Eight Regional StudiesEast African Publishing HouseNairobi174261Google Scholar
  14. Johnson, T.C., Barry, S.L., Chan, Y., Wilkinson, P. 2001‘Decadal record of climate variability spanning the past 700 year in the southern tropics of East Africa’Geology298386Google Scholar
  15. Lamb, H., Darbyshire, I., Verschuren, D. 2003‘Vegetation response to rainfall variation and human impact in central Kenya during the past 1100 years’The Holocene13285292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lee-Thorp, J.A., Holmgren, K., Lauritzen, S.E., Linge, H., Moberg, A., Partridge, T.C., Stevenson, C., Tyson, P. 2001‘Rapid climate shifts in the southern African interior throughout the mid to late Holocene’Geophysical Research Letters2845074510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Leslie, M. and Maggs T. (ed) : 2000, ‘African Naissance: The Limpopo Valley 1000 years Ago’, The South African Archaeological Society, Goodwin Series, 8Google Scholar
  18. Maggs, T. 1984‘The Iron Age south of the Zambezi’Klein, R.G. eds. Southern African Prehistory and PalaeoenvironmentsBalkemaRotterdam329360Google Scholar
  19. Nicholson, S.E. 2000‘The nature of rainfall variability over Africa on time scales of decades to millennia’Global and Planetary Change26137158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Parsons, N. 1993A New History of Southern AfricaMacmillanLondonGoogle Scholar
  21. Robertshaw, P., Taylor, D. 2000‘Climate change and the rise of political complexity in western Uganda’Journal of African History41128Google Scholar
  22. Stager, J.C., Cumming, B., Meeker, L. 1997‘A high-resolution 11,400-year diatom record from lake Victoria East Africa’Quaternary Research478189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Stager, J.C., Cumming, B.F., Meeker, L.D. 2003‘A 10,000-year high-resolution diatom record from Pilkington Bay Lake Victoria East Africa’Quaternary Research59172181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Stager, J.C., Ryves, D., Cumming, B.F., Meeker, L.D., Beer, J. 2005‘Solar variability and the levels of Lake Victoria East Africa, during the last millennium’Journal of Paleolimnology33243251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sutton, J.: 2004, ‘Engaruka: the success & abandonment of an integrated irrigation system in an arid part of the Rift Valley, c 15th to 17th centuries’, In M Widgren and J.E.G. Sutton (ed.), Islands of Intensive Agriculture in the Eastern Africa, James Currey Ltd, Eastern African Studies, , pp. 114–132.Google Scholar
  26. Taylor, D., Robertshaw, P., Marchant, R.P. 2000‘Environmental change and political-economic upheaval in precolonial western Uganda’The Holocene10527536CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Tyson, P.D., Cooper, G.R.J., McCarthy, T.S. 2002a‘Millennial to multi-decadal variability in the climate of southern Africa’International Journal of Climatology2211051117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Tyson, P.D., Lee-Thorp, J., Holmgren, K., Thackeray, J.F. 2002b‘Changing gradients of climate change in southern Africa during the past millennium: implications for population movements’Climatic Change52129135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Verschuren, D., Laird, K.R., Cumming, B.F. 2000‘Rainfall and drought in equatorial East Africa during the past 1,100 years’Nature403410414CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Vogel, J.C.: 2000, ‘Radiocarbon dating of the iron age sequence in the Limpopo valley’, in: M. Leslie and T. Maggs (eds.), African Naissance: The Limpopo Valley 1000 years Ago, The South African Archaeological Society, Goodwin Series, 8, pp. 51–57Google Scholar
  31. Webster, J.B. 1980‘Drought, migration and chronology in the Lake Malawi littoral’Transafrican Journal of History97090Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary GeologyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

Personalised recommendations