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Classifying past climate change in the Chew Bahir basin, southern Ethiopia, using recurrence quantification analysis


The Chew Bahir Drilling Project (CBDP) aims to test possible linkages between climate and evolution in Africa through the analysis of sediment cores that have recorded environmental changes in the Chew Bahir basin. In this statistical project we consider the Chew Bahir palaeolake to be a dynamical system consisting of interactions between its different components, such as the waterbody, the sediment beneath lake, and the organisms living within and around the lake. Recurrence is a common feature of such dynamical systems, with recurring patterns in the state of the system reflecting typical influences. Identifying and defining these influences contributes significantly to our understanding of the dynamics of the system. Different recurring changes in precipitation, evaporation, and wind speed in the Chew Bahir basin could result in similar (but not identical) conditions in the lake (e.g., depth and area of the lake, alkalinity and salinity of the lake water, species assemblages in the water body, and diagenesis in the sediments). Recurrence plots (RPs) are graphic displays of such recurring states within a system. Measures of complexity were subsequently introduced to complement the visual inspection of recurrence plots, and provide quantitative descriptions for use in recurrence quantification analysis (RQA). We present and discuss herein results from an RQA on the environmental record from six short (< 17 m) sediment cores collected during the CBDP, spanning the last 45 kyrs. The different types of variability and transitions in these records were classified to improve our understanding of the response of the biosphere to climate change, and especially the response of humans in the area.

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Our project was funded by the DFG priority program SPP 1006 ICDP to M.H.T. and F.S. as well as the CRC 806 “Our Way to Europe” to F.S. at the University of Cologne. The project also received funds from a DFG grant to N.M. and M.H.T. to improve the recurrence plots/recurrence quantification analysis methods. This paper is publication number 19 of the Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project (HSPDP). The MATLAB code to calculate the RPs and to perform the RQA is available at and on request from the corresponding author.

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Correspondence to Martin H. Trauth.

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Trauth, M.H., Asrat, A., Duesing, W. et al. Classifying past climate change in the Chew Bahir basin, southern Ethiopia, using recurrence quantification analysis. Clim Dyn 53, 2557–2572 (2019).

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  • Paleoclimate dynamics
  • Eastern Africa
  • Pleistocene
  • Holocene
  • Time-series analysis
  • Recurrence plot