Late Quaternary climatic changes revealed by luminescence dating, mineral magnetism and diffuse reflectance spectroscopy of river terrace palaeosols: a new form of geoproxy data for the southern African interior

Type Article
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-59
Number of pages17
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Early online date20 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014
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The nature, spatial patterns and forcing mechanisms of Quaternary climatic changes across southern Africa remain unresolved and contentious, principally due to the scarcity of continuous and robustly-dated proxy records. We present what we interpret to be a broadly continuous record of late Quaternary climatic change based on optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating, and mineral magnetic and diffuse reflectance spectroscopy (DRS) analyses of stacked palaeosols within an overbank alluvial succession along the Modder River, central South Africa. The OSL ages indicate that alluvial sedimentation occurred at a fairly steady rate, averaging ∼0.15 mm/yr from at least 44 ka until ∼0.83 ka. This suggests that the palaeosols are accretionary, having formed contemporaneously with sedimentation. Climate is identified as the key soil-forming factor controlling the intensity of pedogenesis and is reflected in the changing concentration of pedogenic ferrimagnetic minerals (magnetite/maghemite) of single domain and superparamagnetic dimensions, and by variations in the amount of hematite compared to goethite. These data indicate that the climate was generally dry (rainfall ∼200–400 mm/yr) from ∼46 to 32 ka, except for a brief peak in humidity at ∼42 ka. There was then a period of greater humidity (rainfall ∼400–600 mm/yr) from ∼32 to 28 ka, possibly reflecting enhanced moisture supply from the Atlantic Ocean associated with the equatorward migration and intensification of westerly storm tracks. Although the precise mechanism remains unresolved, this climatic change may have been linked to an obliquity minimum at ∼29 ka. After ∼28 ka, the climate became progressively cooler and drier, especially between ∼18 and 15.5 ka when rainfall was as low as ∼100–200 mm/yr. Temperatures and rainfall then increased from ∼15.5 ka onwards, with the latter possibly linked to rising sea-surface temperatures in the SW Indian Ocean and enhanced moisture supply from easterly circulation. At ∼0.83 ka, a time corresponding with part of the Medieval Climatic Anomaly (MCA, ∼900–1300 AD), rainfall reached ∼600–700 mm/yr and was higher than at present (∼400–500 mm/yr). Fluvial landforms have previously been overlooked as a source of palaeoenvironmental information in southern Africa, but this study clearly demonstrates the potential to extract robust palaeoenvironmental data from alluvial-palaeosol successions in the arid to semi-arid interior where other forms of proxy record are scarce


  • Erfkroon, Southern Africa, Palaeosol, OSL, Quaternary, Mineral magnetism