Research News

PhD defense by Sandra Sitoe

Date:    13.00, Thursday, 14th December

Titel:   Environmental history in southern Mozambique: Reconstruction of flooding events, hydroclimate and sea-level dynamics since mid-Holocene
Venue: Nordenskiöldsalen, Geovetenskapen hus

Faculty opponent:

Ass. Prof John Compton, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa


Evaluation committee:

Ass. Prof Jeffery Stone, College of Arts and Sciences, Indiana State University, USA

Prof. Tiiu Koff, Institute of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Tallinn University, Estonia

Reader David Ryves, Department of Geography, Loughborough University, UK


Reserve member:

Prof. Regina Lindborg, Department of Physical Geography, SU


The aim of this thesis has been to reconstruct paleoenvironment, paleohydrology and paleoclimate in coastal southern Mozambique, with emphasis on tracing past flooding events on the lower Limpopo River floodplain. In order to extend flood chronologies beyond periods covered by instrumental data, sediments from lakes on the floodplain were studied (Lake Lungué, Coassane Oxbow, Lake Magandane and Lake Soane). Past sea-level variations and climate changes were deduced by analyzing sediments from coastal sites north of the floodplain area (Lake Chilau, Lake Nhauhache and Macassa Bay). To achieve the established objectives, a multi-proxy approach was applied on most of the retrieved sediment cores, involving analysis of mineral magnetic parameters, grain-size and organic carbon in combination with analysis of microfossils such as diatoms and/or phytoliths. Chronologies for the constructed time-series analysis were obtained by radiocarbon dating and age-depth modelling. The synthesized data from the sampled sites on the Limpopo River floodplain suggest that the area was affected by at least 16 flooding events of variable magnitudes during the studied period. These are dated to c. AD 940, 980, 1040, 1100, 1250, 1300, 1370, 1580, 1665, 1730, 1755, 1855, 1920, 1945, 1970 and 2000. In calibrated years BP these ages correspond to 1010, 970, 910, 850, 700, 650, 580, 370, 285, 220, 195, 95, 30, and 5 cal yrs BP. The two youngest are dated to 20 and 50 years AP (After Present being 1950). Proxy data further suggest that southern Africa was subject to two periods of sea-level highstands, at c. 5000–4200 BC (6950–6150 cal yrs BP) and AD 300–950 (1650–1000 cal yrs BP). The former represents the middle part of the postglacial climatic optimum. The wettest period in the Limpopo River floodplain was reported between AD 1360 and 1560 (590 and 390 cal yrs BP) in the Lake Lungué record, while Lake Chilau experienced wet conditions between AD 1200 and 1400 (750 and 550 cal yrs BP), then returning to drier conditions that prevailed until c. AD 1600. In Lake Nhauhache, however, drier conditions prevailed from c. AD 1200–1700 (750–250 cal yrs BP), shifting towards wetter at c. AD 1900 (50 cal yrs BP). The deviating signals between records can partly be explained by Lake Lungué basin being located on the Limpopo River floodplain, responding to flooding events associated with precipitation upstream the drainage area. Therefore, wet and dry periods in floodplain lakes (e.g. Lake Lungué) are not expected to correlate with precipitation changes on a local scale, as indicated by e.g. Lake Nhauhache. This is supported by a relatively weak agreement between Lake Lungué record and other nearby records (outside the floodplain), but a better correlation with records from the upper catchment, where a more regional climate signal is provided of the southern African summer rainfall region.

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