Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 189–209 | Cite as

Late Holocene linkages between decade–century scale climate variability and productivity at Lake Tanganyika, Africa

  • Andrew S. CohenEmail author
  • Kiram E. Lezzar
  • Julia Cole
  • David Dettman
  • Geoffrey S. Ellis
  • Meagan Eagle Gonneea
  • Pierre-Denis Plisnier
  • Victor Langenberg
  • Maarten Blaauw
  • Derrick Zilifi


Microlaminated sediment cores from the Kalya slope region of Lake Tanganyika provide a near-annually resolved paleoclimate record between ∼∼2,840 and 1,420 cal. yr B.P. demonstrating strong linkages between climate variability and lacustrine productivity. Laminae couplets comprise dark, terrigenous-dominated half couplets, interpreted as low density underflows deposited from riverine sources during the rainy season, alternating with light, planktonic diatomaceous ooze, with little terrigenous component, interpreted as windy/dry season deposits. Laminated portions of the studied cores consist of conspicuous dark and light colored bundles of laminae couplets. Light and dark bundles alternate at decadal time scales. Within dark bundles, both light and dark half couplets are significantly thinner than within light bundles, implying slower sediment accumulation rates during both seasons over those intervals.

Time series analyses of laminae thickness patterns demonstrate significant periodicities at interannual–centennial time scales. Longer time scale periodicities (multidecadal to centennial scale) of light and dark half couplet thicknesses are coherent and in some cases are similar to solar cycle periods on these time scales. Although laminae thickness cycles do not strongly covary with the actual Δ14C record for this same time period, two large Δ14C anomalies are associated with substantial decreases in both light and dark laminae thickness. In contrast to the multidecadal– centennial time scale, significant annual to decadal periodicities, which are broadly consistent with ENSO/PDO forcing and their impact on East African climate, are not coherent between light and dark half couplets. The coherency of light–dark couplets at decadal–centennial time scales, but not at shorter time scales, is consistent with a model of a long-term relationship between precipitation (recorded in wet season dark laminae thickness) and productivity (light laminae thickness), which is not manifest at shorter time scales. We hypothesize that this coupling results from long-term recharging of internal nutrient loading during wet periods (higher erosion of soil P) and reduced loading during drought intervals. The relationship is not expressed on short time scales during which the dominant control on productivity is wind-driven, dry season upwelling, which is uncorrelated with wet-season precipitation. Our record greatly extends the temporal record of this quasi-periodic behavior throughout the late Holocene and provides the first evidence linking decade- to century-scale episodes of enhanced productivity to enhanced precipitation levels and nutrient recharge in a productive tropical lake.


Lake Tanganyika Varves Paleoproductivity Holocene paleoclimate Solar forcing of climate ENSO 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



We thank the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute, the Tanzanian Council on Science and Technology, FAO/FINNIDA/LTR, the students and staff of the Nyanza Project, the crew of the M/V Maman Benita, and colleagues at the University of Dar es Salaam for help with this project and access to unpublished data. We are grateful to M. Mann for discussion of spectral analyses and C. Clark for assistance with climate data. We also thank J.␣Curt Stager and William Last for their many valuable comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. This research was financed by NSF (grant nos. ATM9619458 and ATM0223920) and the Lake Tanganyika Biodiversity Project. JEC acknowledges NSF support in the form of a CAREER grant on decadal variability. This is contribution #168 of the International Decade of East African Lakes (IDEAL).


  1. Anderson RY, Dean WE (1988) Lacustrine varve formation through time. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 62:215–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Birks HH, Battarbee RW, Birks HJB, Bradshaw EG, Brooks SJ, Duigan CA, Jones VJ, Lemdahl G, Peglar SM, Solem JO, Solhøy IW, Stalsberg MK (2000) The development of the aquatic ecosystem at Kråkenes Lake, western Norway, during the late-glacial and early-Holocene—a synthesis. J Paleolimnol 23:91–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Black DE, Peterson LC, Overpeck JT, Kaplan A, Evans MN, Kashgarian M (1999) Eight centuries of North Atlantic Ocean atmospheric variability. Science 286: 709–1713CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. CLIVAR/PAGES/IPCC Workshop (2003) A multi-millennia perspective on drought and implications for the future. CLIVAR/PAGES, Southampton, UK; Bern, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  5. Coenen EJ, Paffen P, Nikomeze E (1998) Catch per unit of effort (CPUE) study for different areas and fishing gears of Lake Tanganyika: FAO/FINNIDA. Research for the Management of the Fisheries of Lake Tanganyika. GCP/RAF/271/FIN-TD/80, UN-FAO, Rome, ItalyGoogle Scholar
  6. Cohen AS, Talbot MR, Awramik SM, Dettman DL, Abell P (1997) Lake level and paleoenvironmental history of Lake Tanganyika, Africa, as inferred from late Holocene and modern stromatolites. Geol Soc Am Bull 109:444–460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cohen AS, Palacios-Fest MR, Msaky ES, Alin SR, McKee B, Oȁ9Reilly CM, Dettman DL, Nkotagu H, Lezzar KE (2005) Paleolimnological investigations of anthropogenic environmental change in Lake Tanganyika: IX. Summary of paleorecords of environmental change and catchment deforestation at Lake Tanganyika and impacts on the Lake Tanganyika ecosystem. J Paleolimnol 34:125–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cole JE, Dunbar RB, McClanahan TR, Muthiga N (2000) Tropical Pacific forcing of decadal variability in the western Indian Ocean over the past two centuries. Science 287:617–619CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Damassa TD, Cole JE, Barnett HR, Ault TR, McClanahan TR (in press). Enhanced multidecadal climate variability in the 17th century from coral isotope records in the western Indian Ocean. PaleoceanographyGoogle Scholar
  10. Damon PE, Jirikowic JL (1992) The sun as a low-frequency harmonic oscillator. Radiocarbon 34:199–205Google Scholar
  11. Deser C, Phillips AS, Hurrell JW (2004) Pacific interdecadal climate variability: linkages between the tropics and the North Pacific during boreal winter since 1900. J Climate 17:3109–3124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Edmond JM, Stallard RF, Craig H, Weiss RF, Coulter GW (1993) Nutrient chemistry of the water column of Lake Tanganyika. Limnol Oceanogr 38:725–738CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. François R, Pilskaln CH, Altabet MA (1996) Seasonal variation in the nitrogen isotopic composition of sediment trap materials collected in Lake Malawi. In: Johnson TC, Odada EO (eds) The limnology, climatology and paleoclimatology of the East African lakes. Gordon and Breach Publishers, Amsterdam, Netherlands, pp 241–250Google Scholar
  14. Francus P, Cocquyt C, Sturm M (2003) High resolution study of laminated facies of sediment cores from Lake Tanganyika: are they annual? IXth Intl Paleolimnol Symp, Helsinki, Finland. Abstr. w/progGoogle Scholar
  15. Garreaud RD, Battisti DS (1999) Interannual (ENSO) and interdecadal (ENSO-like) variability in the Southern Hemisphere tropospheric circulation. J Climate 12:2113–2123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hecky RE (1991) The pelagic ecosystem. In: Coulter GW (ed) Lake Tanganyika and its life. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, UK, pp 90–110Google Scholar
  17. Hecky RE (1993) The eutrophication of Lake Victoria. Verh Internat Verein Limnol 25:39–48Google Scholar
  18. Hecky RE, Bootsma HA, Mugidde RM , Bugenyi FWB (1996) Phosphorus pumps, nitrogen sinks, and silicon drains: plumbing nutrients in the African Great Lakes. In: Johnson TC, Odada EO (eds) The limnology, climatology and paleoclimatology of the East African lakes. Gordon and Breach Publishers, Amsterdam, Netherlands, pp 205–224Google Scholar
  19. Hecky RE, Spigel RH, Coulter GW (1991) The nutrient regime. In: Coulter GW (ed) Lake Tanganyika and its life. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, UK, pp 76–89Google Scholar
  20. Hodell DA, Brenner M, Curtis JH, Guilderson T (2001) Solar forcing of drought frequency in the Maya lowlands. Science 292:367–1370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Imberger J, Patterson JC (1990) Physical limnology. Adv Appl Mech 27:303–475CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Johnson TC, Barry SL, Chan Y, Wilkinson P (2001) Decadal record of climate variability spanning the past 700 yr in the Southern Tropics of East Africa. Geology 29:83–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Johnson TC, Brown ET, McManus J, Barry S, Barker P, Gasse F (2002) A high-resolution paleoclimate record spanning the past 25,000 years in southern East Africa. Science 295:113–114, 131–132CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Kakogozo K, Mwenyemaile B, Drieu O (eds) (2000) Etude Hydrologique du Bassin Nord-Ouest du Lac Tanganyika (R.D. Congo). Final Report Series, Lake Tanganyika Biodiversity Project, Natural Resources Institute, Chatham, UKGoogle Scholar
  25. Kimbadi S, Vandelannoote A, Deelstra H, Mbemba M, Ollevier F (1999) Chemical composition of the small rivers of the north-western part of Lake Tanganyika. Hydrobiologia 407:75–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Langenberg VT, Sarvala J, Roijackers R (2003a) Effect of wind induced water movements on nutrients, chlorophyll-a and primary production in Lake Tanganyika. Aquat Ecosyst Health Mgmt 6:279–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Langenberg VT, Nyamushahu S, Roijackers R, Koelmans AA (2003b) External nutrient sources for Lake Tanganyika. J Great Lakes Res 29(Suppl. 2):169–180Google Scholar
  28. Lehman JT, Mugidde R, Lehman DA (1998) Lake Victoria plankton ecology: Mixing depth and climate driven control of lake condition. In: Lehman JT (ed) Environmental Change and Response in East African Lakes. Kluwer Acad. Dordrecht, Netherlands, pp 99–116Google Scholar
  29. Lotter AF, Sturm M, Teranes JL, Wehrli B (1997) Varve formation since 1885 and high resolution varve analyses in hypereutrophic Baldegersee (Switzerland). Aquat Sci 59:304–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mann M, Lees J (1996) Robust estimation of background noise and signal detection in climate time series. Climate Change 33:409–445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mantua NJ, Hare SR, Zhang Y, Wallace JM, Francis RC (1997) A Pacific interdecadal oscillation with impacts on salmon production. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 78:1069–1079CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mantua NJ, Hare SR (2002) The Pacific decadal oscillation. J Oceanogr 58:35–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mölsä H, Sarvala J, Badende S, Chitamwebwa D, Kanyaru R, Mulimbwa M, Mwape L (2002) Ecosystem monitoring in the development of sustainable fisheries in Lake Tanganyika. Aquat Ecosyst Health Mgmt 5:267–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Moy CM, Seltzer GO, Rodbell DT, Anderson DM (2002) Variability of El Nio/Southern Oscillation activity at millennial timescales during the Holocene epoch. Nature 420:162–165CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Neff U, Burns SJ, Mangini A, Mudelsee M, Fleitman D, Matter A (2001) Strong coherence between solar variability and the monsoon in Oman between 9 and 6 kyr ago. Nature 411:290–293CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Newman M, Compo GP, Alexander MA (2003) ENSO-forced variability of the Pacific decadal oscillation. J␣Climate 16:3853–3857CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nicholson SE (1996) A review of climate dynamics and climate variability in Eastern Africa. In: Johnson TC, Odada EO (eds) The Limnology, Climatology and Paleoclimatology of the East African Lakes. Gordon and Breach Publ, Amsterdam, Netherlands, pp 25–56Google Scholar
  38. Nicholson SE (1998) Historical fluctuations of Lake Victoria and other lakes in the northern rift valley of East Africa. In: Lehman JT (ed) Environmental Change and Response in East African Lakes. Kluwer-Academic, Dordrecht Netherlands, pp 7–29Google Scholar
  39. Nicholson SE (1999) Historical and modern fluctuations of Lakes Tanganyika and Rukwa and their relationship to rainfall variability. Climatic Change 41:53–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nicholson SE, Entekhabi D (1987) Rainfall variability in equatorial and southern Africa. Relationships with sea-surface temperatures along the southwestern coast of Africa. J Clim Appl Meteorol 26:561–577CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Nicholson SE, Kim JY (1997) The relationship of the El Nio-Southern Oscillation to African rainfall. Intl J␣Climatol 17:117–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Nkotagu H, Mwambo K (2000) Hydrology of selected watersheds along the Lake Tanganyika shoreline: final report series, Lake Tanganyika Biodiversity Project. Natural Resources Inst, Chatham, UKGoogle Scholar
  43. Oȁ9Reilly CM, Alin SR, Plisnier PD, Cohen AS, McKee BA (2003) Climate change decreases aquatic productivity of Lake Tanganyika, Africa. Nature 424:766–768CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Palacios-Fest MR, Cohen AS, Lezzar KE, Nahimana L, Tanner BM (2005a) Paleolimnological investigations of anthropogenic environmental change in Lake Tanganyika: III. Physical stratigraphy and charcoal analysis. J Paleolimnol 34:31–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Palacios-Fest MR, Cohen AS, Lezzar KE, Nahimana L, Tanner BM (2005b) Paleolimnological investigations of anthropogenic environmental change in Lake Tanganyika: IV. Lacustrine paleoecology. J Paleolimnol 34:51–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Patterson G, Kachinjika O (1995) Limnology and phytoplankton ecology. In: Menz A (ed) The fishery potential and productivity of the pelagic zone of Lake Malawi/Niassa Natural Resources Institute, Overseas Development Administration. Hobbs The Printer Ltd., Totton, UK, pp 1–68Google Scholar
  47. Pilskaln CH (1989) Seasonal particulate flux and sedimentation in Lake Malawi, East Africa. EOS 70:1130Google Scholar
  48. Pilskaln C, Johnson TC (1991) Seasonal signals in Lake Malawi sediments. Limnol Oceanogr 36:544–557CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Plisnier PD (1997) Climate, limnology and fisheries changes of Lake Tanganyika. FAO/FINNIDA Research for the management of the Fisheries of Lake Tanganyika. GCP/RAF/271/FIN/72, UN-FAO, Rome, ItalyGoogle Scholar
  50. Plisnier PD (2000) Recent climate and limnology changes in Lake Tanganyika. Verh Internat Verein Limnol 27:2670–2673Google Scholar
  51. Plisnier PD, Langenberg VT, Mwape L, Chitamwebwa D, Tshibangu K, Coenen E (1996) Limnological sampling during an annual cycle at three stations on Lake Tanganyika. FINNIDA/FAO Report GCP/RAF/271/FIN, UN-FAO, Rome, ItalyGoogle Scholar
  52. Plisnier PD, Chitamwebwa D, Mwape L, Tshibangu K, Langenberg VT, Coenen E (1999) Limnological annual cycle inferred from physical–chemical fluctuations at three stations of Lake Tanganyika. Hydrobiologia 407:45–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Plisnier PD, Coenen EJ (2001) Pulsed and dampened annual limnological fluctuations in Lake Tanganyika. In: Munawar M, Hecky RE (eds) The great lakes of the world: food-web, health and integrity. Backhuys, Leiden, Netherlands, pp 83–96Google Scholar
  54. Plisnier PD, Serneels S, Lambin EF (2000) Impact of ENSO on East African ecosystems: a multivariate analysis based on climate and remote sensing data. Global Ecol Biogeogr 9:481–497CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Power S, Tseitkin F, Mehta V, Lavery B, Torok S, Holbrook N (1999) Decadal climate variability in Australia during the twentieth century. Intl J Climatol 19:169–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Reimer PJ, Baillie MGL, Bard E, Bayliss A, Beck JW, Bertrand CJH, Blackwell PG, Buck CE, Burr GS, Cutler KB, Damon PE, Edwards RL, Fairbanks RG, Friedrich M, Guilderson TP, Hogg AG, Hughen KA, Kromer B, McCormac FG, Manning SW, Bronk RC, Reimer RW, Remmele S, Southon JR, Stuiver M, Talamo S, Taylor FW, van der Plicht J, Weyhenmeyer CE (2004) IntCal04: terrestrial radiocarbon age calibration, 26–0 ka B.P. Radiocarbon 46:1029–1058Google Scholar
  57. Russell JM, Johnson TC, Kelts KR, Laerdal T, Talbot MR (2003) An 11,000-year lithostratigraphic and paleohydrologic record from equatorial Africa: Lake Edward, Uganda Congo. Palaeogeog Palaeoclim Palaeoecol 193:25–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Russell JM, Johnson TC (2005) A high-resolution geochemical record from Lake Edward, Uganda Congo and the timing and causes of tropical African drought during the late Holocene. Quat Sci Rev 24:1375–1389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Sichingabula H (1999) Analysis and results of discharge and sediment monitoring activities in the southern Lake Tanganyika basin, Zambia. Final Report Series, Lake Tanganyika Biodiversity Project, Natural Resources Inst., Chatham, UKGoogle Scholar
  60. Solanki SK, Usoskin IG, Kromer B, Schüssler M, Beer J (2004) Unusual activity of the Sun during recent decades compared to the previous 11,000 years. Nature 431:1084–1087CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Stager JC (1998) Ancient analogues for recent environmental changes at Lake Victoria, Africa. In: Lehman JT (ed) Environmental change and response in East African lakes. Kluwer-Academic, Dordrecht, Netherlands, pp 37–46Google Scholar
  62. Stager JC, Cumming BF, Meeker LD (2003) A 10,000-year high-resolution diatom record from Pilkington Bay, Lake Victoria, East Africa. Quat Res 59:172–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Stager JC, Ryves D, Cumming BF, Meeker LD, Beer J (2005) Solar variability and the levels of Lake Victoria, East Africa, during the last millennium. J Paleolimnol 33:243–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Stuiver M, Quay PD (1980) Changes in atmospheric 14C attributed to a variable sun. Science 207:11–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Stuiver M, Reimer PJ, Reimer R (2005) CALIB 5.0.1html.
  66. Thevenon F, Williamson D, Vincens A, Taieb M, Merdaci O, Decobert M, Buchet G (2003) A late-Holocene charcoal record from Lake Masoko, SW Tanzania: climatic and anthropologic implications. The Holocene 13:785–792CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Tian J, Brown TA, Hu FS (2005) Comparison of varve and 14C chronologies from Steel Lake, Minnesota, USA. The Holocene 15:510–517CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Toure YM, White WB (1994) Indian Ocean may have El Nio of its own. EOS Dec 13 1994:3Google Scholar
  69. Urban FE, Cole JE, Overpeck JT (2000) Modification of tropical Pacific variability by its mean state inferred from a 155-year tropical Pacific coral record. Nature 407:989–993CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. van Geel B, Buurman J, Waterbolk HT (1996) Archaeological and palaeoecological indications of an abrupt climate change in The Netherlands, and evidence for climatological teleconnections around 2650 BP. J␣Quat Sci 11:451–460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. van Loon H, Meehl GA, Arblaster JM (2004) A decadal solar effect in the tropics in July–August. J Atmos Solar Terr Phys 66:1767–1778CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Verburg P, Hecky RE, Kling H (2003) Ecological consequences of a century of warming in Lake Tanganyika. Science 301:505–507CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  73. Verschuren D, Laird KR, Cumming BF (2000) Rainfall and drought in equatorial East Africa during the past 1,100 years. Nature 403:410–414CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  74. Wang Y, Cheng H, Edwards RL, He Y, Kong X, An Z, Wu J, Kelly MJ, Dykowski CA, Li X (2005) The Holocene Asian monsoon: links to solar changes and North Atlantic climate. Science 308:854–857CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  75. Wheeler CW, Overpeck JT, Arko J, Sharp WE (2002) The varved sediments of Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana and implications for a new chronology of West African hydrologic change during the Late Quaternary. AGU Ann Mtg, Abst w/progGoogle Scholar
  76. Zhang Y, Wallace JM, Battisti DS (1997) ENSO-like interdecadal variability: 1900–93. J Climate 10:1004–1020CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Zilifi D, Eagle M (2000) Sediment cores from the Kalya platform, slope and horst: high resolution and long-time span paleolimnology and paleoclimate records. 2000 Nyanza Project Annual Report, University of␣Arizona, Tucson, USA, pp 20–23 (

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew S. Cohen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kiram E. Lezzar
    • 1
  • Julia Cole
    • 1
    • 2
  • David Dettman
    • 1
  • Geoffrey S. Ellis
    • 3
  • Meagan Eagle Gonneea
    • 4
  • Pierre-Denis Plisnier
    • 5
  • Victor Langenberg
    • 6
  • Maarten Blaauw
    • 7
  • Derrick Zilifi
    • 8
  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Atmospheric SciencesUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  3. 3.Power, Environmental, and Energy Research CenterCalifornia Institute of TechnologyCovinaUSA
  4. 4.Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA
  5. 5.Geology & Mineralogy DepartmentRoyal Museum for Central AfricaTervurenBelgium
  6. 6.National Institute for Coastal and Marine Management (RIKZ)The HagueThe Netherlands
  7. 7.Centro de Investigación en MatemáticasGuanajuato, GtoMexico
  8. 8.Department of GeologyUniversity of ZambiaLusakaZambia

Personalised recommendations