27 Oct 2023
 | 27 Oct 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Disentangling influences of climate variability and lake-system evolution on climate proxies derived from isoprenoid and branched GDGTs: the 250-kyr Lake Chala record

Allix Jean Baxter, Francien Peterse, Dirk Verschuren, Aihemaiti Maitituerdi, Nicolas Waldmann, and Jaap S. Sinninghe Damsté

Abstract. High-resolution paleoclimate records from tropical continental settings are greatly needed to advance understanding of global climate dynamics. The International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) project DeepCHALLA recovered a 214.8-meter long sediment sequence from Lake Chala, a deep and permanently stratified (meromictic) crater lake in equatorial East Africa, covering the past c. 250,000 years (250 kyr) of continuous lacustrine deposition since the earliest phase of lake-basin development. Lipid biomarker analyses on the sediments of this long-lived lake can provide much-needed records of past climate variability from this currently poorly documented region. However, the degree to which climate proxies derived from aquatically produced biomarkers are affected by aspects of lake developmental history is rarely considered, even though it may critically influence their ability to consistently register a particular climate variable through time. Modern-system studies in Lake Chala revealed crucial information about the mechanisms underpinning relationships between proxies based on isoprenoid (iso-) and branched (br-) glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs) and the targeted climate variables, but the persistence of these relationships in the past remains unclear. To assess the reliability of long-term climate signals registered in the sediments of Lake Chala, we compared downcore variations in GDGT distributions with major phases in lake-system evolution as indicated by independent proxies of lake depth, mixing regime and nutrient dynamics: seismic reflection data, lithology and fossil diatom assemblages. Together, these records suggest that during early lake history (before c. 180–200 ka) the distinct mixing-related depth zones with which specific GDGT producers are associated in the modern-day lake were not yet formed, likely due to more open lake hydrology and absence of chemical water-column stratification. Consequently during this early phase the absolute GDGT concentrations are relatively low, proxies sensitive to water-column stratification (e.g., BIT index) display highly irregular temporal variability, and correlations between proxies are dissimilar to expectations based on modern-system understanding. A sequence of lake-system changes between c. 180–200 ka and c. 80 ka first established and then strengthened the chemical density gradient, promoting meromictic conditions despite the overall decrease in lake depth due to sediment accumulation. From c. 180 ka onward some GDGTs and derived proxies (e.g., crenarchaeol concentration, BIT index and IR6Me display strong ~23-kyr periodicity, likely reflecting the predominantly precession-driven insolation forcing of Quaternary climate variability in low-latitude regions. Our results suggest that GDGT-based temperature and moisture-balance proxies in Lake Chala sediments reflect the climate history of eastern equatorial Africa from at least c. 160 ka onwards, i.e., covering the complete last glacial-interglacial cycle and the penultimate glacial maximum. This work confirms the potential of lacustrine GDGTs for elucidating the climate history of tropical regions at Quaternary timescales, provided they are applied to suitably high-quality sediment archives. Additionally, their interpretation should incorporate a broader understanding of the extent to which lake-system evolution limits the extrapolation back in time of proxy-climate relationships established in the modern system.

Allix Jean Baxter et al.

Status: open (until 22 Dec 2023)

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Allix Jean Baxter et al.

Allix Jean Baxter et al.


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Short summary
This study investigates the impact of long-term lake system evolution on the climate signal recorded by GDGTs, a popular biomarker in paleoclimate research. It compares downcore changes in GDGTs in the 250,000-year Lake Chala (Kenya/Tanzania) sediment sequence to independent data for lake mixing and water column chemistry. These factors critically influence the GDGT proxies during the earliest depositional phases (before ~180,000 ka), confounding the climate signal.