Cárdenes-Sandí, G.M., Shadik, C.R., Correa-Metrio, A., Gosling, W.D., Cheddadi, R. & Bush, M.B. (2019) Central American climate and microrefugia: A view from the last interglacial. Quaternary Science Reviews205, 224-233. DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2018.12.021
For free access click here before 19 February 2019
An international team of scientists have reconstructed the longest ever record of past sunshine using pollen trapped in lake sediments collected in Ghana, Africa. The study published today in Scientific Reports enables us to understand past changes in solar input to the global system over the past 140,000 years. Previously we have had to rely upon computer models to mathematically determine past solar inputs to the Earth. “This work really is a first; being able to peer back in time to understand how the Sun has driven our global system over many of thousands of years is a very exciting prospect” said joint-lead author Dr. Phillip Jardine of The Open University.
The Sun is a key component of our natural environment, driving a multitude of processes at Earth’s surface, from photosynthesis generating energy within plants, through to global-scale circulation patterns in our oceans and atmosphere. Understanding more about how the Sun has behaved in the past, and the influence this had on Earth’s environment, will help scientists predict future climate change.
Dr. Jardine used a technique pioneered by one of his co-authors, Dr. Wesley Fraser of Oxford Brookes University, to determine past changes in solar input, specifically changes in ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Plants protect themselves from the harmful nature of ultraviolet radiation by incorporating a number of specific chemical compounds into their tissues that absorb and dissipate the energy of UV radiation. Pollen grains of flowering plants are also provided protection by these UV-absorbing chemicals, thus act as a long-term recorder of ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.
Pollen grains are readily trapped in lake sediments, where they can be preserved for millions of years. By extracting material from Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana, the pollen that was released by flowering plants thousands of years ago can be separated from the lake sediment and chemically analysed for UV-absorbing chemical compounds. It is this chemical signature within the ancient pollen grains that provides us with information about past levels of solar ultraviolet radiation.
“What we present here is a new opportunity to explore how the Earth has changed” said Dr. William Gosling (University of Amsterdam). “I am particularly excited about this because it will means that we can gain a better understanding of why vegetation changed in the past, and consequently this will allow us to anticipate better what the likely impacts of projected future climate change will be.”
Jardine PE, Fraser WT, Lomax BH, Sephton MA, Shanahan TM, Miller CS & Gosling WD (2016) Pollen and spores as biological recorders of past ultraviolet irradiance. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/srep39269
Bush, M.B. & McMichael, C.N.H. (2016) Holocene variability of an Amazonian hyperdominant. Journal of Ecology online. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.12600
Open access online:
Flantua, S.G.A., Hooghiemstra, H., Grimm, E.C., Behling, H., Bush, M.B., González-Arango, C., Gosling, W.D., Ledru, M., Lozano-García, S., Maldonado, A., Prieto, A.R., Rull, V. & Van Boxel, J.H. Updated site compilation of the Latin American Pollen Database. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 223, 104-115. DOI: 10.1016/j.revpalbo.2015.09.008
Miller, C.S. (2014) 520,000 years of environmental change in West Africa. PhD Thesis, Department of Environment, Earth & Ecosystems, The Open University.
Global temperatures are predicted to rise by 2–2.5°C by 2065, profoundly affecting the Earth’s environment. The response of ecosystems to past climate fluctuations can inform on how systems will respond in the future. This thesis focuses on Quaternary environmental changes in West Africa, a region important because of its high ecological value and role in the global carbon cycle.
In 2004, the International Continental Drilling Program recovered c. 291m of sediments spanning the last c. 1 Myr from Lake Bosumtwi (Ghana). Pollen, charcoal and nitrogen isotopes (d15N) were analysed from the most recent c. 150m (c. 520 kyr). The latitudinal position and long duration of this core makes it unique for understanding West African monsoon dynamics and vegetation change.
To aid characterisation of the Bosumtwi pollen succession, an atlas of present-day pollen was constructed for 364 pollen and spore taxa.
The pollen record from Bosumtwi reveals dynamic vegetation change over the last c. 520 kyr, characterized by eleven biome shifts between savannah and forest. Savannah vegetation is dominated by Poaceae (>55%) associated with Cyperaceae, Chenopodiaceae-Amaranthaceae and Caryophyllaceae. Forest vegetation is palynologically diverse, but broadly characterised by Moraceae, Celtis, Uapaca, Macaranga and Trema. Low d15N values correspond to forest expansion and these are driven by high lake levels. The timescale indicates that the six periods of forest expansion correspond to global interglacial periods. The record indicates that the wettest climate occurred during the Holocene, and the driest during Marine Isotope Stage 7.
The vegetation and d15N records show a strong response to glacial-interglacial variability between c. 520–320 kyr and 130–0 kyr. Between c. 320–130 kyr there is a weaker response to glacial-interglacial cycles probably related to high eccentricity during the peak of the 400-kyr component of eccentricity, with high eccentricity resulting in greater seasonality and ultimately drier conditions.