EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Early Warning Signals for the Termination of the African Humid Period(s)

Martin H. Trauth1, Asfawossen Asrat2,3, Markus L. Fischer1, Peter O. Hopcroft4, Verena Foerster5, Stefanie Kaboth-Bahr1, Henry F. Lamb6, Norbert Marwan7, Mark A. Maslin8, Frank Schäbitz5, and Paul J. Valdes9
Martin H. Trauth et al.
  • 1University of Potsdam, Institute for Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany (
  • 2Botswana University of Science and Technology, Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, Palapye, Botswana
  • 3Addis Ababa University, School of Earth Sciences, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • 4University of Birmingham, School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Birmingham, United Kingdom
  • 5University of Cologne, Institute of Geography Education, Cologne, Germany
  • 6Aberystwyth University, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth, UK
  • 7Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany
  • 8University College London, Geography Department, London, UK
  • 9University of Bristol, Bristol Research Initiative for the Dynamic Global Environment, School of Geographical Sciences, Bristol, United Kingdom

The study of the mid-Holocene climate tipping point in tropical and subtropical Africa is the subject of current research, not only because there is a comparatively simple but nonlinear relationship between the change in cause (orbital forcing) and the accelerated response of the monsoon system, but also because the African monsoon is an example of a potentially positive evolution of living conditions for humans: modeling results suggest that the Sahel is expanding northward in the wake of human-induced recent global warming, with green belts spreading northward. New literature distinguishes tipping elements such as the African monsoon according to the nature of the cause and the response of the climate system. Research here focuses primarily on tipping points of the type, which is characterized by a critical slowing down and a decreasing recovery from perturbations. The African monsoon, on the other hand, is an example of the tipping point of the type, which is characterized by flickering before the transition. The two types also differ in the nature of their early warning signals (EWS). These EWS are increasingly becoming the focus of research, as they are particularly important for predicting possible tipping of climate in the future of our planet. For the African monsoon system, flickering between two stable states near the transition has been predicted by modeling, but has not yet been demonstrated on paleoclimate time series.

The paleoenvironmental record from the Chew Bahir Basin in the southern Ethiopian Rift, which documents the climate history of eastern Africa of the past ~620 ka with decadal resolution in some parts provides the possibility to examine the termination of the African Humid Period (AHP, ~15–5 kyr BP) with regard to the possible occurrence of EWS. Thanks to six well-dated short sediment cores (<17 m, <47 kyr BP) and two long cores (~290 m, <620 ka BP) we can not only study the last climate transition at ~5.5 kyr BP in detail, but also similar transitions including possible EWS long before the first occurrence of Homo sapiens at ~318 ka BP on the African continent. The analysis of the Chew Bahir record reveals a rapid (~880 yr) change of climate at ~5.5 kyr BP in response to a relatively modest change in orbital forcing that appears to be typical of climate tipping points. If this is the case then 14 dry events at the end of the AHP and 7 wet events after the transition, each of them 20–80 yrs long and recurring every 160±40 yrs, could indeed indicate a pronounced flickering between wet and dry conditions at the end of the AHP, providing significant EWS of an imminent tipping point. Compared to the low-frequency cyclicity of climate variability before and after the termination of the AHP, the flickering occurs on time scales equivalent to a few human generations and it is very likely (albeit speculative) that people were conscious of these changes and adapted their lifestyles to the rapid changes in water and food availability.

How to cite: Trauth, M. H., Asrat, A., Fischer, M. L., Hopcroft, P. O., Foerster, V., Kaboth-Bahr, S., Lamb, H. F., Marwan, N., Maslin, M. A., Schäbitz, F., and Valdes, P. J.: Early Warning Signals for the Termination of the African Humid Period(s), EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-5277,, 2023.