Die Grüne Sahara

Ein Forscherteam der University of Arizona um Jessica Tierney hat die letzte klimatische Feuchtphase in der Sahara anhand von Sedimentkernen vor der Küste Marokkos untersucht und die Regenmengen anhand der Wachszusammensetzung von Pfllanzenresten rekonstruiert. 11.000 bis 5000 Jahre vor unserer Zeit regnete es laut den neuen Ergebnissen 10 mal mehr als heute. Dies erlaubte eine Besiedelung der Sahara, die damals zur Savanne und bewaldeten Graslandschaft wurde. Die Einwohner hielten ihr Leben in eindrucksvollen Felsbildern fest. Vor 8000 Jahren gab es jedoch eine Zeit von einigen Jahrhunderten, in denen der Regen ausblieb, wie Tierney und Kollegen dokumentierten. Die Autoren weisen zudem darauf hin, dass Klimamodelle die rekonstruierte Realität noch immer nicht zufriedenstellend nachbilden können, da offenbar wichtige Verstärkermechanismen im Zusammenhang mit der Vegetation und Staub zu wenig berücksichtigt wurden. Hier die Pressemitteilung der University of Arizona vom 18. Januar 2017:

Green Sahara’s Ancient Rainfall Regime Revealed by Scientists

A UA-led team has identified the climate pattern that generated a “Green Sahara” from 5,000 to 11,000 years ago. The region had 10 times the rainfall it does today.

Rainfall patterns in the Sahara during the 6,000-year “Green Sahara” period have been pinpointed by analyzing marine sediments, according to new research. What is now the Sahara Desert was the home to hunter-gatherers who made their living off the animals and plants that lived in the region’s savannahs and wooded grasslands 5,000 to 11,000 years ago. “It was 10 times as wet as today,” said lead author Jessica Tierney of the University of Arizona. Annual rainfall in the Sahara now ranges from about 4 inches to less than 1 inch (100 to 35 mm).

Although other research had already identified the existence of the Green Sahara period, Tierney and her colleagues are the first to compile a continuous record of the region’s rainfall going 25,000 years into the past. The team’s paper “Rainfall regimes of the Green Sahara,” is scheduled for publication in the journal Science Advances on Jan. 18 [2017]. Archaeological evidence shows humans occupied much of the Sahara during the wet period, but left for about a thousand years around 8,000 years ago — the middle of the Green Sahara period. Other investigators have suggested the Sahara became drier at the time people left, but the evidence was not conclusive, said Tierney, a UA associate professor of geosciences. Her team’s continuous rainfall record shows a thousand-year period about 8,000 years ago when the Sahara became drier. That drier period coincides with when people left, she said. “It looks like this thousand-year dry period caused people to leave,” Tierney said. “What’s interesting is the people who came back after the dry period were different — most raised cattle. That dry period separates two different cultures. Our record provides a climate context for this change in occupation and lifestyle in the western Sahara.”

Tierney and her colleagues also used their rainfall record to suggest ways current climate models can better replicate the Sahara’s ancient climate and therefore improve projections of future climate. Tierney’s co-authors are Francesco Pausata of Stockholm University in Sweden and Peter deMenocal of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the Swedish Research Council funded the research. Researchers had long known the Sahara was much greener in the past, but how much of the Sahara was wetter and how much wetter was not well understood, Tierney said. Although scientists can learn about past climate by examining ancient lake sediments, in the Sahara the lakes dried up long ago and their sediments have blown away.

Instead of lake sediments, Tierney and her colleagues used cores of marine sediments taken off the coast of West Africa at four different sites. Because the cores were taken over a north-south distance of about 800 miles (1,300 km) — from offshore Cape Ghir, Morocco, to the northwest corner of Mauritania — the cores revealed both the ancient rainfall patterns and the areal extent of the Green Sahara. In terrestrial plants, the chemical composition of a leaf’s wax changes depending on how dry or wet the climate was when the plant was growing. Leaf wax also washes into the ocean and can be preserved in the marine sediments that are laid down year after year. “The waxes record the climate conditions on land,” Tierney said. By analyzing the leaf wax from ancient marine sediments, the team determined the region’s past rainfall patterns and also gathered clues about what types of plants were growing.

The team also wanted to know whether the conditions on land interacted with the atmosphere to affect climate, because most of the current climate models don’t simulate the Green Sahara period well, she said. The amount of solar radiation Earth receives during the Northern Hemisphere summer depends on where Earth’s “wobble,” known as precession, is in its 23,000-year cycle. At the beginning of the Green Sahara, the Northern Hemisphere was closer to the sun during summer. Warmer summers strengthened the West African monsoon and delivered more rain. Toward the end of the Green Sahara, the Northern Hemisphere was farther from the sun and the West African monsoon was weaker. There’s a feedback between vegetation, dust and rainfall, Tierney said. Right now the Sahara Desert is the planet’s biggest source of dust — but a vegetated Sahara would produce much less dust.

Und hier der Abstract der Arbeit in Science Advances:

Rainfall regimes of the Green Sahara
During the “Green Sahara” period (11,000 to 5000 years before the present), the Sahara desert received high amounts of rainfall, supporting diverse vegetation, permanent lakes, and human populations. Our knowledge of rainfall rates and the spatiotemporal extent of wet conditions has suffered from a lack of continuous sedimentary records. We present a quantitative reconstruction of western Saharan precipitation derived from leaf wax isotopes in marine sediments. Our data indicate that the Green Sahara extended to 31°N and likely ended abruptly. We find evidence for a prolonged “pause” in Green Sahara conditions 8000 years ago, coincident with a temporary abandonment of occupational sites by Neolithic humans. The rainfall rates inferred from our data are best explained by strong vegetation and dust feedbacks; without these mechanisms, climate models systematically fail to reproduce the Green Sahara. This study suggests that accurate simulations of future climate change in the Sahara and Sahel will require improvements in our ability to simulate vegetation and dust feedbacks.

Die Felsenbilder sind übrigens auch in einem Schulungsfilm zur geologischen Entwicklung der Sahara enthalten, den Sebastian Lüning im Rahmen mehrerer Expeditionen in Südlibyen drehte: