Assessment of soil n-alkane δD and branched tetraether membrane lipid distributions as tools for paleoelevation reconstruction
Abstract. δ18O values of pedogenic minerals forming from soil water are commonly used to reconstruct paleoelevation. To circumvent some of the disadvantages of this method, soil n-alkane δD values were recently proposed as a new tool to reconstruct elevation changes, after showing that soil n-alkane δD values track the altitude effect on precipitation δD variations (r2=0.73 along Mt. Gongga, China). To verify the suitability of soil n-alkane δD values as a paleoelevation proxy we measured the δD of soil n-alkanes along Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania). At midslope, soil n-alkane δD values are possibly influenced by the present precipitation belt, causing D-depletion in precipitation, and hence in the soil n-alkanes. Consequently, soil n-alkane δD values do not linearly relate with altitude (r2=0.03), suggesting that, in this case, they can not serve as an unambiguous proxy to infer past elevation changes. In contrast, it was recently shown that the MBT/CBT temperature proxy, which is based on the distribution of branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraether (GDGT) membrane lipids, is linearly related with MAT, and thus altitude (r2=0.77), at Mt. Kilimanjaro. This suggests that this proxy may be more suitable for paleoelevation reconstruction for this region. However, application of the MBT/CBT proxy on the altitude gradient along Mt. Gongga showed that, although the MBT/CBT-derived temperature lapse rate (−5.9°C/1000 m) resembles the measured temperature lapse rate (−6.0°C/1000 m), there is a relatively large degree of scatter (r2=0.55). Our results thus show that both proxies can be subject to relatively large uncertainties in their assessment of past elevation changes, but that a combination of the soil n-alkane δD and MBT/CBT proxies can likely result in a more reliable assessment of paleoelevation.