Climatic Change

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 53–71 | Cite as

Historical and Modern Fluctuations of Lakes Tanganyika and Rukwa and Their Relationship to Rainfall Variability

  • Sharon E. Nicholson


This paper describes the fluctuations of Lakes Tanganyika and Rukwa over the last two centuries. Lake chronologies extending back to the late eighteenth century are derived from reports of European visitors, settlers and explorers and from oral accounts of the local peoples. The historical fluctuations are meshed with the modern record to provide a picture of the lakes' fluctuations until the late twentieth century. The historical fluctuations of the lakes are quite similar. The most important of these are low levels during the first half of the nineteenth century, very high stands in the last decades of the nineteenth century, and, around the turn of the century, a rapid fall to twentieth century levels. This pattern is ubiquitous throughout eastern Africa and is apparent in numerous other lakes, including Victoria, Naivasha, Stefanie, Turkana, Malawi and Chilwa. Driest periods were in the 1920s or earlier and in the 1950s. Lake Tanganyika returned to extremely high stands in the 1960s and has continued to maintain relatively high stands since that time. Lake Rukwa rose to high stands during the 1980s and maintained them for several years. An analysis of rainfall variability shows that these trends are generally explained by variations in catchment rainfall. However, the lakes' responses to rainfall variability are sometimes dissimilar because Lake Rukwa is a closed basin. Our results demonstrate the complexity of the rainfall/lake-level relationships and the need to use water balance relationships in order to interpret the lakes' historical or paleo-fluctuations in terms of rainfall.


Twentieth Century Nineteenth Century Water Balance Local People Eighteenth Century 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sharon E. Nicholson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of MeteorologyFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeU.S.A.

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