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Journal Articles Climate of the Past Year : 2022

Comparison of the green-to-desert Sahara transitions between the Holocene and the last interglacial


The desertification and vegetation feedbacks of the "green Sahara" during the last interglacial (LIG) and the Holocene have been investigated by many studies. Yet the abruptness of climate and vegetation changes and their interactions are still under discussion. In this study, we apply an Earth system model of intermediate complexity (iLOVECLIM) in combination with two dynamical vegetation models (VECODE and LPJ-GUESS) to simulate climate-vegetation changes during the Holocene and the LIG to compare the patterns of North African vegetation evolutions and mechanisms of their feedbacks during these two interglacials. Our results confirmed the existence of the green Sahara during the early LIG, which is as an analogue to the green Sahara during the Holocene. During both interglacials, an overall consistent transition from vegetated Sahara to desert is shown in our results, but the amplitudes of these transitions vary. These simulated Sahara vegetation transitions are nearly linearly related to the summer insolation declines at 20° N, resulting in faster declines of vegetation cover during the LIG than in the Holocene. The decline of vegetation cover peaks at 25% kyr−1 at around 122 ka, while during the Holocene the steepest vegetation cover decline is 10 % kyr−1 at around 6 ka. Our results suggest net positive vegetation feedbacks to climate during the two interglacials. During the early LIG and Holocene, vegetation strengthens precipitation by a factor of 2 to 3 through the vegetation-albedo feedback when the vegetation cover is greater than 60 %. Vegetation cover decreases with declines of the incoming moisture transport by the atmosphere due to the reduced summer insolation at 20° N, weakening the summer monsoon during both interglacials. This desertification is accelerated when the positive vegetation-albedo feedback cannot offset the reduction of precipitation due to a weaker summer monsoon. The impacts of this positive vegetation feedback on precipitation decrease with decreased vegetation cover, during which the impacts of negative vegetation-evaporation feedbacks increase, accelerating the loss of soil moisture and vegetation cover. Overall, the net positive vegetation feedback is strong during the early phases of both interglacials, but the vegetation transition is more abrupt during the LIG than during the Holocene due to the more rapid changes in summer insolation during the LIG. The main difference between the two interglacials is the rate of precipitation change, which is relatively gradual during the Holocene, leading to a more gradual vegetation transition in comparison to the LIG.
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insu-03993101 , version 1 (16-02-2023)





Huan Li, Hans Renssen, Didier M. Roche. Comparison of the green-to-desert Sahara transitions between the Holocene and the last interglacial. Climate of the Past, 2022, 18, pp.2303-2319. ⟨10.5194/cp-18-2303-2022⟩. ⟨insu-03993101⟩
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