Disentangling influences of climate variability and lake-system evolution on climate proxies derived from isoprenoid and branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs): The 250 kyr Lake Chala record

Allix J. Baxter*, Francien Peterse*, Dirk Verschuren, Aihemaiti Maitituerdi, Nicolas Waldmann, Jaap S. Sinninghe Damsté

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


High-resolution paleoclimate records from tropical continental settings are greatly needed to advance understanding of global climate dynamics. The International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) project DeepCHALLA recovered a 214.8 m long sediment sequence from Lake Chala, a deep and permanently stratified (meromictic) crater lake in eastern equatorial Africa, covering the past ca. 250 000 years (250 kyr) of continuous lacustrine deposition since the earliest phase of lake-basin development. Lipid biomarker analyses on the sediments of Lake Chala can provide quantitative records of past variation in temperature and moisture balance from this poorly documented region. However, the degree to which climate proxies derived from aquatically produced biomarkers are affected by aspects of lake developmental history is rarely considered, even though it may critically influence their ability to consistently register a particular climate variable through time. Modern-system studies of Lake Chala revealed crucial information about the mechanisms underpinning relationships between proxies based on isoprenoid (iso-) and branched (br-) glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs) and the targeted climate variables, but the persistence of these relationships in the past remains unclear. Here we assess the reliability of long-term climate signals registered in the sediments of Lake Chala by comparing downcore variations in GDGT distributions with major phases in lake-system evolution as reflected by independent proxies of lake depth, mixing regime and nutrient dynamics: seismic reflection data, lithology and fossil diatom assemblages. Together, these records suggest that during early lake history (before ca. 180-200 ka) the distinct mixing-related depth zones with which specific GDGT producers are associated in the modern-day lake were not yet formed, likely due to more open lake hydrology and absence of chemical water-column stratification. Consequently absolute GDGT concentrations dating to this period are relatively low, proxies sensitive to water-column stratification (e.g., branched versus isoprenoid tetraether (BIT) index) display highly irregular temporal variability, and correlations between proxies are dissimilar to expectations based on modern-system understanding. A sequence of lake-system changes between ca. 180-200 and ca. 80 ka first established and then strengthened the chemical density gradient, promoting meromictic conditions despite the overall decrease in lake depth due to the basin gradually being filled up with sediments. From ca. 180 ka onward some GDGTs and derived proxies (e.g., crenarchaeol concentration, BIT index and IR6Me) display strong ∼ 23 kyr periodicity, likely reflecting the predominantly precession-driven insolation forcing of Quaternary climate variability in low-latitude regions. Our results suggest that GDGT-based temperature and moisture-balance proxies in Lake Chala sediments reflect the climate history of eastern equatorial Africa from at least ca. 160 ka onwards, i.e., covering the complete last glacial-interglacial cycle and the penultimate glacial maximum. This work confirms the potential of lacustrine GDGTs for elucidating the climate history of tropical regions at Quaternary timescales, provided they are applied to suitably high-quality sediment archives. Additionally, their interpretation should incorporate a broader understanding of the extent to which lake-system evolution limits the extrapolation back in time of proxy-climate relationships established in the modern system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2877-2908
Number of pages32
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2024


Dive into the research topics of 'Disentangling influences of climate variability and lake-system evolution on climate proxies derived from isoprenoid and branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs): The 250 kyr Lake Chala record'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this