The Lake Malawi Drilling Project recently completed a scientific drilling campaign, recovering a series of continuous sediment cores for paleoclimate studies. Lake Malawi is situated at the southern end of the East African Rift Valley, and has long been recognized as an outstanding laboratory and archive for the study of tropical paleoclimatology, extensional tectonics, and evolutionary biology.

Along with Lake Tanganyika, Lake Malawi holds the promise of a high-resolution paleoclimate record of unparalleled antiquity in the continental tropics. Lake Malawi is one of the world’s largest, deepest (max. water depth – 2,310 ft.) and oldest lakes, and is the second largest lake in the southern hemisphere after Lake Tanganyika.

The key scientific objectives of this fascinating technological undertaking:

  • The primary objective of the project is to chronicle a continuous, high-resolution record (both yearly and decadal) of past climates in the continental tropics over the Bruhnes epoch, and to determine if tropical African climate responded to changes in low-latitude precessional insolation or to high-latitude ice volume forcing in the last part of the Pleistocene era.

  • Assess the phasing of lake level changes in Lake Malawi during this time, and determine if Malawi responded to Southern Hemisphere insolation forcing, as is suggested in late-Pleistocene and Holocene era records.

  • From the high-resolution Lake Malawi drill core records, determine if high-frequency climate variations are superimposed on glacial-interglacial timescale variations in the form of wet/dry cycles.

  • The continuous Lake Malawi record will allow the team to establish how annual African climate variability has changed in association with longer-term climate variations.

  • Determining the long-term evolution of tropical East African climate, and assessing its postulated shift.
The project will profoundly impact other fields, including extensional basin evolution and neotectonics, evolutionary biology, and the environmental background to human origins.