Understanding deltaic resilience in the face of Holocene climate change and human impacts is an important challenge for the earth sciences in characterizing the full range of present and future wetland responses to global warming. Here, we report an 8000-year mass balance record from the Nile Delta to reconstruct when and how this sedimentary basin has responded to past hydrological shifts. In a global Holocene context, the long-term decrease in Nile Delta accretion rates is consistent with insolation-driven changes in the 'monsoon pacemaker', attested throughout the mid-latitude tropics. Following the early to mid-Holocene growth of the Nile's deltaic plain, sediment losses and pronounced erosion are first recorded after ~4000 years ago, the corollaries of falling sediment supply and an intensification of anthropogenic impacts from the Pharaonic period onwards. Against the backcloth of the Saharan 'depeopling', reduced river flow underpinned by a weakening of monsoonal precipitation appears to have been particularly conducive to the expansion of human activities on the delta by exposing productive floodplain lands for occupation and irrigation agriculture. The reconstruction suggests that the Nile Delta has a particularly long history of vulnerability to extreme events (e.g. floods and storms) and sea-level rise, although the present sediment-starved system does not have a direct Holocene analogue. This study highlights the importance of the world's deltas as sensitive archives to investigate Holocene geosystem responses to climate change, risks and hazards, and societal interaction.
ASJC Scopus subject areas