Temperature variability over Africa during the last 2000 years

Sharon Nicholson, David Nash, Brian Chase, Stefan Grab, Timothy Shanahan, Dirk Verschuren, Asfawossen Asrat, Anne-Marie Lezine, Mohammed Umer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A growing number of proxy, historical and instrumental data sets are now available from continental Africa through which past variations in temperature can be assessed. This paper, co-authored by members of the PAGES Africa2k Working Group, synthesises published material to produce a record of temperature variability for Africa as a whole spanning the last 2000 years. The paper focuses on temperature variability during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA), Little Ice Age (LIA) and late 19th-early 21st centuries. Warmer conditions during the MCA are evident in records from Lake Tanganyika in central Africa, the Ethiopian Highlands in northeastern Africa, and Cango Cave, the Kuiseb River and Wonderkrater in southern Africa. Other records covering the MCA give ambiguous signals. Warming appears to have been greater during the early MCA (c. AD 1000) in parts of southern Africa and during the later MCA (from AD 1100) in Namibia, Ethiopia and at Lake Tanganyika. LIA cooling is evident in Ethiopian and southern African pollen records and in organic biomarker data from Lake Malawi in southeastern tropical Africa, while at Lake Tanganyika the temperature depression appears to have been less consistent. A warming trend in mean annual temperatures is clearly evident from historical and instrumental data covering the late 19th to early 21st centuries. General warming has occurred over Africa since the 1880s punctuated only by a period of cooling in the mid-20th century. The rate of temperature increase appears to have accelerated towards the end of the 20th century. The few long high-resolution proxy records that extend into the late 20th century indicate that average annual temperatures were 1-2˚C higher in the last few decades than during the MCA.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1085-1094
Number of pages10
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2013

Bibliographical note

© 2013 The Author(s)


  • Africa
  • ‘Little Ice Age’
  • ‘Medieval Climate Anomaly’
  • temperature variability
  • 20th century


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