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Paleolimnological features of a mega-lake phase in the Makgadikgadi Basin (Kalahari, Botswana) during Marine Isotope Stage 5 inferred from diatoms

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Andrew HendersonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


The Makgadikgadi-Okavango-Zambezi basin (MOZB) is a structural depression in the southwestern branch of the East African Rift System of the northern and middle Kalahari, central southern Africa. In the present day, the mainly dry subbasins of the MOZB are part of a long lived lacustrine system that has likely existed since Early Pleistocene and from which an extant freshwater fish radiation emerged seeding all major river systems of southern Africa. During hydrologically favourable periods the subbasins were connected as a single mega-lake termed Lake Palaeo-Makgadikgadi. Previous geomorphological studies and OSL dates have provided evidence for repeated mega-lake periods since approximately 300 ka. The environmental and climatic implications of such large scale late Quaternary lake-level fluctuations are controversial, with the duration of mega-lake phases poorly constrained. Here, we present the first evidence for a Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5 mega-lake period (about 935-940 m a.s.l.) reconstructed from a diatom-rich, 30-cm-thick lacustrine sediment section, exposed close to a palaeo-shoreline of the Makgadikgadi Basin. Based upon the environmental setting and in comparison with sedimentation rates of other similar lake environments, we tentatively estimated that the highstand lasted approximately 1 ka during MIS 5d-b. The 30-cm section was sampled in 0.5-cm steps. Diatom species diversity ranges from 19 to 30 through the section. The dominant species are Pseudostaurosira brevistriata, Rhopalodia gibberula, Cyclotella meneghiniana and Epithemia sorex. The total of 60 sediment samples provide us with a record at decadal to bi-decadal resolution. Based on diatom assemblages and their oxygen isotope composition (δ18O) we infer an alkaline and mostly oligohaline lake with shallow water conditions prevailing in MIS 5, and is potentially analogous to a Heinrich event. The climate over southern Africa during MIS 5 has been considered very arid but the hydromorphological context of our sediment section indicates that we captured a mega-lake period providing evidence that short-term excursions to significantly higher humidity existed. A hydrologically more favourable environment during MIS 5 than formerly presumed is in line with the early human occupation of the Kalahari.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Schmidt M, Fuchs M, Henderson ACG, Kossler A, Leng MJ, Mackay AW, Shemang E, Riedel F

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Paleolimnology

Year: 2017

Volume: 58

Issue: 3

Pages: 373-390

Print publication date: 01/10/2017

Online publication date: 30/06/2017

Acceptance date: 16/06/2017

Date deposited: 21/06/2017

ISSN (print): 0921-2728

ISSN (electronic): 1573-0417

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s10933-017-9984-9


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