Abstract

Glaciers on the world’s highest tropical mountains are among the most sensitive components of the cryosphere, yet the climatic controls that influence their fluctuations are not fully understood. Here we present the first 10Be ages of glacial moraines in Africa and use these to assess the climatic conditions that influenced past tropical glacial extents. We applied 10Be surface exposure dating to determine the ages of quartz-rich boulders atop moraines in the Rwenzori Mountains (∼1°N, 30°E), located on the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The 10Be ages document expanded glaciers ca. 23.4 and 20.1 ka, indicating that glaciers in equatorial East Africa advanced during the global Last Glacial Maximum (ca. 26–19.5 ka). A comparison of these moraine ages with regional paleoclimate records indicates that Rwenzori glaciers expanded contemporaneously with dry and cold conditions. Recession from the moraines occurred after ca. 20.1 ka, similar in timing to a rise in air temperature documented in East African lake records. Our results suggest that, on millennial time scales, past fluctuations of Rwenzori glaciers were strongly influenced by air temperature.

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