Evolution of Lake Chad Basin hydrology during the mid-Holocene: A preliminary approach from lake to climate modelling
During the mid-Holocene (6000 yr Before Present, hereafter yr BP) the Chad Basin was occupied by a large endoreic lake, called Lake Mega-Chad. The existence of this lake at that time seems linked to increased monsoonal moisture supply to the Sahel and the Sahara, which in turn was probably ultimately caused by variations in the orbital forcing and higher temperature gradients between ocean and continent. This study provides a synthesis of several works carried out on the Lake Chad Basin and analyses the results of a simulation of the mid-Holocene climate with an Atmosphere General Circulation Model (LMDZ for Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique, IPSL Paris), with emphasis on the possible conditions leading to the existence of Lake Mega-Chad. The aim is to define the best diagnostics to understand which mechanisms lead to the existence of the large lake. This paper is the first step of an ongoing work that intends to understand the environmental conditions that this part of Africa experienced during the Upper Miocene (ca. 7 Ma BP), an epoch that was contemporaneous with the first known hominids. Indeed, early hominids of Lake Chad Basin, Australopithecus bahrelghazali [ Brunet, M., et al., 1995. The first australopithecine 2500 kilometers west of the Rift-Valley (Chad). Nature, 378(6554): 273-275] and Sahelanthropus tchadensis [Brunet, M., et al., 2002. A new hominid from the Upper Miocene of Chad, central Africa. Nature, 418(6894): 145-151; Brunet, M., et al., 2005. New material of the earliest hominid from the Upper Miocene of Chad. Nature, 434(7034): 752-755] are systematically associated with wet episodes that are documented for 7 Ma BP [Vignaud, P., et al., 2002. Geology and palaeontology of the Upper Miocene Toros-Menalla hominid locality, Chad. Nature, 418(6894): 152-155] and testified by extended lacustrine deposits (diatomites, pelites, various aquatic fauna). Because the mid-Holocene was the last such mega-lake episode, our aim here is to assess the simulated response of Lake Chad to the hydrologic changes caused by 6 kyr BP forcings (orbital variations, albedo, sea surface temperatures) as a test for a future use of the model for studies of the Miocene climate. We show that the induced northward shift of the simulated ITCZ, and the hydrological changes around the lake caused by this shift, are consistent with an increased water balance over the Lake Chad Basin 6000 yr ago. Water supply from the soil (runoff and river inputs) will have to be taken into account in further simulations in order to discuss the timing of the onset, expansion and decay of such a giant water surface in subtropical Africa.