Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Sediment residence time reveals Holocene shift from climatic to vegetation control on catchment erosion in the Balkans

Francke, Alexander; Dosseto, Anthony; Panagiotopoulos, Konstantinos; Leicher, Niklas; Lacey, Jack H.; Kyrikou, Styliani; Wagner, Bernd; Zanchetta, Giovanni; Kouli, Katerina; Leng, Melanie J.

Sediment residence time reveals Holocene shift from climatic to vegetation control on catchment erosion in the Balkans Thumbnail


Alexander Francke

Anthony Dosseto

Konstantinos Panagiotopoulos

Niklas Leicher

Jack H. Lacey

Styliani Kyrikou

Bernd Wagner

Giovanni Zanchetta

Katerina Kouli


Understanding the evolution of soil systems on geological time scales has become fundamentally important to predict future landscape development in light of rapid global warming and intensifying anthropogenic impact. Here, we use an innovative uranium isotope-based technique combined with organic carbon isotopes and elemental ratios of sediments from Lake Ohrid (North Macedonia/Albania) to reconstruct soil system evolution in the lake's catchment during the last ~16,000 cal yr BP. Uranium isotopes are used to estimated the paleo-sediment residence time, defined as the time elapsed between formation of silt and clay sized detrital matter and final deposition. The chronology is based on new cryptotephra layers identified in the sediment sequence. The isotope and elemental data are compared to sedimentary properties and pollen from the same sample material to provide a better understanding of past catchment erosion and landscape evolution in the light of climate forcing, vegetation development, and anthropogenic land use.

During the Late Glacial and the Early Holocene, when wide parts of the catchment were covered by open vegetation, wetter climates promoted the mobilisation of detrital matter with a short paleo-sediment residence time. This is explained by erosion of deeper parts of the weathering horizon from thin soils. Detrital matter with a longer paleo-sediment residence time, illustrating shallow erosion of thicker soils is deposited in drier climates. The coupling between climatic variations and soil erosion terminates at the Early to Mid-Holocene transition as evidenced by a pronounced shift in uranium isotope ratios indicating that catchment erosion is dominated by shallow erosion of thick soils only. This shift suggests a threshold is crossed in hillslope erosion, possibly as a result of a major change in vegetation cover preventing deep erosion of thin soils at higher elevation. The threshold in catchment erosion is not mirrored by soil development over time, which gradually increases in response to Late Glacial to Holocene warming until human land use during the Late Holocene promotes reduced soil development and soil degradation. Overall, we observe that soil system evolution is progressively controlled by climatic, vegetation, and eventually by human land use over the last ~16,000 years.


Francke, A., Dosseto, A., Panagiotopoulos, K., Leicher, N., Lacey, J. H., Kyrikou, S., …Leng, M. J. (2019). Sediment residence time reveals Holocene shift from climatic to vegetation control on catchment erosion in the Balkans. Global and Planetary Change, 177, 186-200.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 3, 2019
Online Publication Date Apr 4, 2019
Publication Date 2019-06
Deposit Date Apr 18, 2019
Publicly Available Date Apr 5, 2020
Journal Global and Planetary Change
Print ISSN 0921-8181
Electronic ISSN 1872-6364
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 177
Pages 186-200
Keywords Soil system evolution; Geomorphology; Landscape evolution; Human impact; Balkan Peninsula; Uranium isotopes; Sediment residence time; Paleoclimate; Lake Ohrid; Tephrochronology
Public URL
Publisher URL


You might also like

Downloadable Citations