They did this in cooperation with a German colleague from the University of Bremen. The scientists developed an entirely new method to reconstruct the history of land temperatures based on the molecular fossils of soil bacteria.
They applied the method to a marine sediment core taken in the outflow of the Congo River. This core contained eroded land material and microfossils from marine algae. The results show that the land environment of tropical Africa was cooled more than the adjacent Atlantic Ocean during the last ice-age.
This large temperature difference between land and ocean surface resulted in drier conditions compared to the current situation, which favours the growth of a lush rainforest. These findings provide further insight in natural variations in climate and the possible consequences of a warming earth on precipitation in central Africa. The results will be published in this week's issue of 'Science'.
One of the techniques currently used to estimate past sea surface temperatures, is based on organic molecules from algae growing in the surface layer of the Ocean. These organisms adapt the molecular composition of their cell membranes to ambient temperature to maintain constant physiological properties. When such molecules sink to the sea floor and are buried in sediments where oxygen does not penetrate, they can be preserved for thousands of years. The ratios between the different molecules from the algal cell membrane can be used to approximate the past temperature of the sea surface. These techniques are therefore called 'proxies'.
New method to measure soil temperatures
Reconstructing continental temperature history is more difficult than for the oceans, because soils on the continent do not form a continuous archive but are often eroded. The researchers developed an entirely new proxy for the annual mean air temperature on land, based on molecules from the cell membrane of soil inhabiting bacteria. They analysed eroded soil material in a sediment core in the outflow area of the river Congo in the South Atlantic Ocean at a depth of almost 1000m. Since the Congo River drains a large part of tropical central Africa, the land derived material gives an integrated signal for a very large area.
Cool tropical Africa
The new proxy was used in this sediment core to obtain both a continental and a sea surface temperature record. A comparison of both records shows that ocean surface and land temperatures behaved differently during the past 25,000 years. During the last ice age, temperatures over tropical Africa were 21°C, about 4°C lower than today, whereas the tropical Atlantic Ocean was only about 2.5°C colder. By comparing this temperature difference with existing records of continental rainfall variability, lead author Johan Weijers and his colleagues concluded that the land-sea temperature difference has by far the largest influence on continental rainfall. This can be explained by the strong relationship of air pressure to temperature. When the temperature of the sea surface is higher than that of the continent, stronger offshore winds reduce the flow of moist sea air onto the African continent. This occurred during the last ice age and, as a consequence, the land climate in tropical Africa was drier than it is in today's world, where it favours the growth of a lush rainforest. These results provide further insight into the natural variation of climate and the possible consequences of a warming earth on precipitation in central Africa.
This research project was funded by the division of Earth and Life Sciences of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO-ALW).
Jan Boon | alfa
Scientists on the road to discovering impact of urban road dust
18.01.2018 | University of Alberta
Gran Chaco: Biodiversity at High Risk
17.01.2018 | Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.
Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
19.01.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.01.2018 | Health and Medicine
19.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy