Saudi Aramco World: May/June 2014 - page 23

May/June 2014
21
including, he says, “the relatively late introduc-
tion of the date palms, [and] we can explain or at
least better understand the history of Pharaonic
Egypt.” It is, he asserts, “the highest-resolution
look we’ve ever had at climate history on the Af-
rican continent.”
Baba agrees. “With Stefan Kröpelin, we’re in
debt, having published in important international scientific
journals. We are able to understand precisely how these lakes
function,” he says. “Naturally, if we had the means, we’d do
[the coring and analysis] here, and it would be uniquely a
Chadian discovery.”
W
e’ve been traveling back and forth for an
hour on a track in Eguibechi, some dis-
tance from Lake Yoan in Ounianga Kebir.
Kröpelin is looking for an outcropping of
diatomaceous earth that he spied on the
way into town. He had noted its
GPS
position, but he is having
no luck. We retrace the route one last time. It is not what Kröpe-
lin has been searching for, but I spot a swath of white over a rise.
When we get to it, Kröpelin is ecstatic, and he immediately
starts to work. Baba crouches over him. “You are witnessing
really a new discovery,” Kröpelin says. “It’s a site I wanted to go
to for many years. We urgently need it for the interpretation of
the core we took down there in the lake so we can make a valid
interpretation of the depth of the lake at the time of deposition.”
What we see, Kröpelin explains, is the shoreline of the origi-
nal paleolake. ”There is still this rhizome, the ancient roots of
reeds, and some places even trees which were growing when the
lake was still shallow.” He estimates that here, they will prove
to be about 8000 years old.
“On this side you find the highest exposed sediments from the
ancient lake floor,” which he claims is evidence that the ancient
lake was “50 or 100 times—an order of magnitude—more exten-
sive than the present-day lake.” In other words, during the Green
Sahara era, “as far as your eyes see, it was covered by water.”
Kröpelin packs the sediment into plastic bags labeled W76,
the new discovery.
The wind whips up, and it starts drowning out Kröpelin’s
voice. In the distance you can just make out the remnant sliver
of oasis, its green palms and its sky-blue lake.
Baba comes over, puts his arm around me and spins me
around to face the sand. “At Ounianga, you see the beauty of
the desert,” he says. “But scientific research doesn’t stop, and
we will uncover more secrets hidden in these lakes.”
Related articles
at
Nubian aquifer: J/F 07
Desert roots of pharaonic Egypt: S/O 06
Desertification and the rise of civilization: N/D 07
Thanks to Chadian hosts with a sense of humor, award-
winning Canadian writer and photographer
Sheldon Chad
(
was, for the duration of this expedi-
tion, affectionately nicknamed “Wardougou” Chad, which
means “Man-who-loves-his-country” Chad. It fit fine from
the start, he says, noting that “the unforgettable beauty of
the Saharan landscape may be exceeded only by the elegance and
generosity of the people who live there.” He currently lives in Brussels.
Fingers of wind-driven sand continue to both shape and encroach upon the Lakes of Ounianga, and in this aerial view looking
southwest over Lake Yoan, the sculpting power of the prevailing northeast harmattan wind is dramatically apparent.
GEORGE STEINMETZ
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