Climate Variability in Europe and Africa: a PAGES-PEP III Time Stream II Synthesis
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The PEP III Europe-Africa transect extends from the arctic fringes of NW Eurasia to South Africa. It encompasses the presently temperate sector of mid-latitude Europe, the Mediterranean region, the arid and semi-arid lands of the Sahara, Sahel and the Arabian Peninsula, and the inter-tropical belt of Africa. The palaeoenvironmental evidence available from these regions, which has been summarised in earlier chapters of this volume and which collectively spans the last 250,000 years, clearly bears the stamp of long-term global climate forcing induced by variations in solar insolation. External forcing is ultimately the reason why the Eurasian continental ice sheets waxed and waned repeatedly during the late Quaternary, and why the southerly limit of permafrost migrated southwards across mid-latitude Europe, periodically becoming degraded during warmer episodes. At the same time, pronounced fluctuations in atmospheric and soil moisture have affected the Mediterranean, desert and Sahel regions, while there is abundant evidence from every sector of the PEP III transect for marked migrations of the principal vegetation belts, as well as for other major environmental changes, that are also considered to reflect long-term climate forcing. It is only in the last decade or so, however, that the full complexity of the history of climate changes during the last interglacial-glacial cycle, and their environmental impacts in continental Europe and Africa, have begun to be recognised. The discovery of evidence for the abrupt Dansgaard-Oeschger (D-O) and Heinrich (H) climatic oscillations in Greenland ice-core (Johnsen et al. 1992) and North Atlantic (Bond et al. 1993) records, have prompted a re-examination of the continental record. This, together with a number of technical improvements in field and laboratory equipment, greater access to sites in remote and difficult terrain, diversification in the range of available palaeoecological and geochronological tools, and closer inter-disciplinary collaboration, have led to a more penetrating examination of the field evidence, which has progressed the science considerably. We can now see that the stratigraphical record is much more complex than appreciated hitherto, and more detailed and refined models of past climatic and environmental models are beginning to emerge. There is, for example, a growing body of evidence which suggests that D-O and H events had significant impacts on the environment of Europe and Africa, as well as on the Mediterranean Sea.