A new model of river dynamics, hydroclimatic change and human settlement in the Nile Valley derived from meta-analysis of the Holocene fluvial archive

Mark G. Macklin*, Willem H.J. Toonen, Jamie C. Woodward, Martin A.J. Williams, Clément Flaux, Nick Marriner, Kathleen Nicoll, Gert Verstraeten, Neal Spencer, Derek Welsby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

In the Nile catchment, a growing number of site- and reach-based studies employ radiocarbon and, more recently, OSL dating to reconstruct Holocene river histories, but there has been no attempt to critically evaluate and synthesise these data at the catchment scale. We present the first meta-analysis of published and publically available radiocarbon and OSL dated Holocene fluvial units in the Nile catchment, including the delta region, and relate this to changing climate and river dynamics. Dated fluvial units are separated both geographically (into the Nile Delta and White, Blue, and Desert Nile sub-regions) and into depositional environment (floodplain and palaeochannel fills). Cumulative probability density frequency (CPDF) plots of floodplain and palaeochannel units show a striking inverse relationship during the Holocene, reflecting abrupt (<100 years) climate-related changes in flooding regime. The CPDF plot of dated floodplain units is interpreted as a record of over-bank river flows, whilst the CPDF plot of palaeochannel units reflect periods of major flooding associated with channel abandonment and contraction, as well as transitions to multi-centennial length episodes of greater aridity and low river flow. This analysis has identified major changes in river flow and dynamics in the Nile catchment with phases of channel and floodplain contraction at c. 6150-5750, 4400-4150, 3700-3450, 2700-2250, 1350-900, 800-550 cal. BC and cal. AD 1600, timeframes that mark shifts to new hydrological and geomorphological regimes. We discuss the impacts of these changing hydromorphological regimes upon riverine civilizations in the Nile Valley.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-123
Number of pages15
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Volume130
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Channel and floodplain contraction phases
  • Drought
  • Flooding
  • Holocene climate change
  • Nile catchment and delta
  • River civilizations

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