Holocene Climate Development of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula

Part of the Springer Geology book series (SPRINGERGEOL)


Holocene climate in North Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula has undergone major changes. In this contribution, we review hydroclimate and temperature changes in the region over the past 15,000 years by correlating and integrating all available case studies. A pronounced wet period corresponding to the ‘Green Sahara’ and its equivalent in Arabia commenced between 15,000 and 9000 years BP and ended sometime between 6500 and 3500 years BP, followed by arid conditions throughout the late Holocene. Start and end dates vary between locations, depending on local factors, climate amplifiers and chosen climate proxies, leading to a spatially and temporally complex distribution. Some studies show gradual transitions between the hydroclimatic states while other locations evidenced abrupt changes. The humid phase was triggered by a northward migration of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) due to orbital precession. The northernmost parts of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula were not reached by the ITCZ. Here, increased early Holocene humidity may have been due to an intensification of southern Mediterranean winter rain and its deeper penetration southwards into the present-day desert areas. The early Holocene ‘Green Sahara’ forms part of a long series of wet periods that have occurred over the past hundred thousand to million years in North Africa and Arabia. Notably, climate models are still unable to match the observed hydroclimatic changes in a quantitative way. Simulated rainfall during the African Humid Period over the Sahara is not sufficient to sustain vegetation at a level seen in the palaeo record, indicating that processes such as vegetation and dust feedbacks still need to be refined. Sea surface temperatures in North Africa and Arabia during the early Holocene were generally one to several degrees C warmer than during the late Holocene. Warming began around 12,000 years BP and ended around 5000 years BP. The warm period generally coincided with the early Holocene wet phase in the region and is linked to the Holocene Thermal Maximum, an early Holocene period during which temperatures were globally elevated. The review suggests that the Holocene climate history of North Africa and Arabia is closely linked to the global development and that significant temperature changes have also occurred in subtropical climate belts.


Holocene Thermal Maximum Green Sahara Hydroclimate Palaeoclimate 



The authors would like to thank Nathalie Combourieu-Nebout, Viviane Bout-Roumazeilles, Rick Hennekam, Miryam Bar-Matthews, Marie-Alexandrine Sicre, Sophie Verheyden, Hai Cheng, Jessica Tierney, Jiao-yang Ruan, Stéphanie Desprat, Cecile Blanchet, Jalal Tabel and Meryem Mojtahid for the kind provision of tabulated data. Lydia Gerullis (MARUM, Univ. Bremen) is thanked for her valuable support with regards to the PANGAEA database. We are grateful to Jurgis Klaudius and Lloyd’s Register for providing the database and correlation software ICTM for this project. Special thanks go to the technical ICTM team who kindly helped initiating the database and charts. Project support by Jens Kröger is greatly acknowledged. We thank Mariusz Gałka (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan) and Christoph Zielhofer (Leipzig University) for valuable discussions. We extend our thanks to the editor of this book, Abderrahmane Bendaoud (University of Science and Technology Houari Boumedienne, Algiers), for the invitation to write this chapter. We are grateful to the two reviewers, whose valuable suggestions helped to improve the manuscript.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Independent ScientistLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany

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