Abrupt shifts of the Sahara-Sahel boundary during Heinrich Stadials
1MARUM – Center for Marine Environmental Sciences and Faculty of Geosciences, University of Bremen, 28359 Bremen, Germany
2Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia
3Institute for Biogeochemistry and Marine Chemistry, University of Hamburg, Bundesstraße 55, 20146 Hamburg, Germany
Abstract. Relict dune fields that are found at 14° N in the modern-day African Sahel are testament to equatorward expansions of the Sahara desert during the late Pleistocene. However, difficulties of dating dune formation mean that abrupt millennial-scale climate events are not always resolved in these records. High-resolution marine core studies have identified Heinrich Stadials as the dustiest periods of the last glacial, although no studies have mapped the spatio-temporal evolution of dust export from West Africa. We use the major-element composition of four marine sediment cores to reconstruct the spatial extent of Saharan-dust versus river-sediment input to the continental margin from West Africa over the last 60 ka. This allows us to map the position of the sediment composition corresponding to the Sahara-Sahel boundary. Our records indicate that the Sahara-Sahel boundary reached its most southerly position (13° N) during Heinrich Stadials, suggesting that these were the periods when the sand dunes formed at 14° N on the continent, rather than at the Last Glacial Maximum. We find that SSB position was closely linked to North Atlantic sea surface temperatures, which during Heinrich Stadials triggered abrupt increases of aridity and wind strength in the Sahel, exposing new dust sources. This result illustrates the influence of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation on the southerly extent of the Sahara desert and has implications for global atmospheric dust loading.