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Environmental and climatic control on seasonal stable isotope variation of freshwater molluscan bivalves in the Turkana Basin (Kenya)

Research Area: Turkana Basin Year: 2013
Type of Publication: Article
Journal: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology Volume: 383-384
Pages: 16-26
ISSN: 0031-0182
We present growth incremental stable isotope records (δ18O and δ13C) of modern and ~2Ma fossil bivalve shells from the semi-arid Turkana Basin (N. Kenya, S. Ethiopia). These data suggest that seasonal cyclicity in δ18O and δ13C recorded by modern and fossil shells are driven by wet-dry seasonal changes in host water chemistry, forced by monsoonal rainfall over the Ethiopian Highlands. Fully lacustrine shells show lower amplitude, or even absent seasonal cyclicity in comparison to deltaic or riverine shells because of the buffering effect of the large water volume in the lake setting. Riverine shells arguably have the clearest relation to seasonally variable climate parameters. Riverine molluscs thus provide a potentially valuable proxy for varying rainfall δ18O values in the Turkana Basin catchment. Cross plots of molluscan δ18O and δ13C data reveal dominant environmental control on molluscan isotope values with remarkably large isotopic differences between lacustrine, deltaic and riverine environments. We interpret this isotope pattern to directly result from the different mixing proportions of Omo River source water with evaporated lake water in these environments. The interpretation of fossil molluscan δ18O and δ13C data in a paleoclimatological context is not straightforward, since the potential influence of temporal changes in lake water temperature, surface evaporation or river discharge on the δ18O budget of the lake is smaller than the isotopic shifts caused by shifting facies patterns in the sedimentary record. Even though it is clear from the rich molluscan faunas that the ~2Ma paleoLake Lorenyang must have been significantly less alkaline than modern Lake Turkana and likely provided good drinking water and abundant availability of food for the different species of hominins inhabiting the region at that time, stable isotope values of molluscan bivalves are not suitable to record the difference in alkalinity between these two settings.
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