Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Ethiopia's Paleoclimate Became Humid, Wetter and Possibly Monsoonal During the Carnian/Norian Triassic

Paleoclimatic records of Late Triassic paleosols from Central Ethiopia




The present study documents the major paleosols types within the Lower Adigrat Sandstone in the Blue Nile Basin of central Ethiopia, with the aim of unraveling the paleoclimatic signatures embedded in them. The paleosols developed within an 80-m-thick siliciclastic succession deposited in a mixed tide- and wave-dominated incised valley estuary during the Late Triassic.

Based on down-profile variations in pedogenic features, three major paleosol types (i.e., types I, II and III) were identified. Type I paleosols dominate the lower part of the section and are interpreted as moderately well-drained argillic Vertisols. The dominant pedogenic process was shrinking and swelling of expandable clays (i.e., smectite) through repeated wetting and drying cycles. The morphologies and the mineralogy of the paleosols provide persuasive evidence for pedogenesis under semi-arid subtropical climatic conditions with pronounced wet-dry seasonality, highly fluctuating soil moisture regime, and deep groundwater table. The presence of a calcic Bk horizon deep in the profiles is consistent with elevated soil moisture deficits and low to moderate mean annual precipitation (MAP). Type II paleosols, interpreted to represent vertic Gleysols, are more common in the middle part of the section. The pervasive gleying reflects poor soil drainage and a shallow groundwater table where the soil is waterlogged most of the year. These paleosols suggest a humid tropical climate characterized by alternating wet-dry seasonality but with more wet months per year. The top of the unit is dominated by type III paleosols that represent gleyed Oxisols, reflecting a more humid equatorial climate marked by wet seasons, elevated annual soil moisture content, and a high water table. The presence of plinthite/laterite is in agreement with a wet equatorial climate characterized by extensive chemical weathering and long periods of landscape stability.

The observed vertical progression in the major paleosol types from Vertsols to Gleysols and Oxisols implies a systematic change in the number of wet months, most probably in response to regional tectonics and long-term climate change. Because the number of wet months is, in part, related to latitude and monsoonal climates, the upward stratigraphic trend in paleosol orders is interpreted to signal the northward or equatorward migration of the Blue Nile Basin and central Ethiopia within Pangea from dry subtropical low-latitudes in the early Late Triassic (Carnian‐Norian) toward the humid, wet equatorial, possibly monsoonal, paleoclimatic zone in the Late Triassic (Norian‐Rhaetian).

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