Collaborative Research: A combined proxy and model investigation of Late Holocene paleoclimate in the Horn of Africa

Lead PI: Peter B. deMenocal

Unit Affiliation: Biology and Paleo Environment, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

August 2012 - July 2015
Africa ; Sub-Saharan Africa
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: This project seeks to investigate the mechanisms causing drought events in the Horn of Africa over the last 4,500 years using a combination of proxy measurements and modeling. Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory will collaborate to generate the first known paleoclimate record for the region. The project will use proxy data from a sediment core collected in the Gulf of Aden to determine regional sea surface temperatures (Mg/Ca, TEX86) and hydroclimate (carbon and hydrogen isotopes from plant leaf waxes) at a resolution of ~20 years. The regional sea surface temperature data will be used to drive Community Earth System Model (CESM) simulations of key drought and pluvial events. Model output will be compared with the proxy hydroclimate record to assess the Horn of Africa's sensitivity to regional SSTs versus more remote (global) climate drivers.

Drought history in the Horn of Africa is closely tied to political instability, making its population particularly vulnerable to climate change. The investigators will engage policy makers focused on this issue through a workshop held in collaboration with the Woodrow Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program. The project will support three early-career researchers, two of which are female with no prior NSF support, as well as training of an undergraduate student.


National Science Foundation (NSF)




Janine Miller, Tyrone Avilla


Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution



Jessica E. Tierney and Peter B. deMenocal.. "Abrupt Shifts in Horn of Africa Hydroclimate Since the Last Glacial Maximum.," Science, v.342, 2013, p. 843. doi:10.1126/science.1240411

Tierney, J. E., Ummenhofer, C. C. & deMenocal, P. B.. "Past and future rainfall in the Horn of Africa.," Science Advances, v.1, 2015, p. 1,. doi:10.1126/sciadv.1500682


ocean and climate physics hydroclimate paleoclimate sea surface temperature horn of africa


Modeling and Adapting to Future Climate