Research ArticleGEOLOGY

Nonuniform Late Pleistocene glacier fluctuations in tropical Eastern Africa

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Science Advances  12 Mar 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 11, eabb6826
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb6826

Abstract

Today’s ice caps and glaciers in Africa are restricted to the highest peaks, but during the Pleistocene, several mountains on the continent were extensively glaciated. However, little is known about regional differences in the timing and extent of past glaciations and the impact of paleoclimatic changes on the afro-alpine environment and settlement history. Here, we present a glacial chronology for the Ethiopian Highlands in comparison with other East African Mountains. In the Ethiopian Highlands, glaciers reached their maximum 42 to 28 ka thousand years ago before the global Last Glacial Maximum. The local maximum was accompanied by a temperature depression of 4.4° to 6.0°C and a ~700-m downward shift of the afro-alpine vegetation belt, reshaping the human and natural habitats. The chronological comparison reveals that glaciers in Eastern Africa responded in a nonuniform way to past climatic changes, indicating a regionally varying influence of precipitation, temperature, and orography on paleoglacier dynamics.

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