Middle Pleistocene to recent diatoms and stratigraphy of the Magadi Basin, south Kenya Rift

Veronica M. Muiruri, Richard Bernhart Owen*, Gijs de Cort, Robin W. Renaut, Nathan M. Rabideaux, Tim K. Lowenstein, Kennie Leet, Mark Sier, Andrew Cohen, Dan Deocampo, Christopher J. Campisano, Anne Billingsley, Anthony Mbuthia

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Two cores were recovered from the Lake Magadi and Nasikie Engida Basins in the south Kenya Rift. Core MAG14-2A (194 m) contains a middle Pleistocene to Holocene record, whereas core NAS15/19 (4.36 m) covers only the late Holocene. Surficial sediments from springs and shallow-water sites were sampled in both basins. MAG14-2A rests on trachyte dated at 1.08 Ma. Diatoms are rare in the oldest sediments, but well preserved after about 545 ka, documenting a trend from less to more saline water. Core MAG14-2A contains fifteen facies, five of which are diatomaceous. In contrast, NAS15/19 is dominated by two facies, each containing well-preserved diatoms. Both sequences are distinct from others of similar age in the Kenya Rift in lacking pedogenic horizons, reflecting the location of Lake Magadi and Nasikie Engida in a tectonic sump where aquatic environments were maintained by geothermal and meteoric springs. Canonical Correspondence Analysis distinguishes three assemblages in the modern surface muds of Lake Magadi and Nasikie Engida, but with no pre-Holocene counterparts. Eleven diatom zones are recognised in MAG14-2A: Zones D2 to D10 contain rare to common diatoms dominated by Aulacoseira granulata and its varieties, Aulacoseira agassizii, Thalassiosira faurii, Thalassiosira rudolfi and Cyclotella meneghiniana. Individual samples commonly include a mixture of benthic and planktonic taxa and saline and freshwater species. These assemblages indicate waters that ranged between pH 7.4 and 11.5 with conductivities of ~ 300 to > 25,000 μS cm−1. Correlations with the neighbouring Olorgesailie and Koora Basins indicate four major environmental phases that affected the south Kenya Rift during the last million years with fresh to moderately saline water, or land surfaces, developing during Phase I (1000 to 750 ka). These environments gave way to generally wetter conditions and freshwater lakes in all basins during Phase II (~ 750 to 500 ka). Phase III (~ 500 to 325 ka) was characterised by drier conditions with paleoenvironments becoming more variable and dry during Phase IV (325 ka to present).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-333
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number3
Early online date18 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Earth-Surface Processes

User-Defined Keywords

  • Diatoms
  • Geochemistry
  • Magadi
  • Mineralogy
  • Paleolakes
  • Sedimentology


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