Natural archives of environmental change, such as lakes and wetlands, are rare in the southern African subregion due to climatic and topographic factors. The Mfabeni Peatland in northern KwaZulu-Natal is one of Africa’s oldest and largest active peatlands, containing in excess of ten meters of continuous peat accumulation, representing a record of environmental change spanning more than 40000 years. This record covers the critical periods of the earth’s recent climatic history through the last glacial maximum and into the current interglacial, the Holocene period. Thus, the Mfabeni site presents a unique opportunity for global change research in subtropical Africa. A pilot study recorded excellent microfossil preservation at the site, and a stratigraphically consistent radiocarbon-derived age-depth model for the bulk of the core (Finch and Hill, 2008). The present research applied a more appropriate coring methodology for the nature and depth of sediment (viz. vibracoring), and has developed a robust AMS chronology, particularly for the last glacial maximum and Holocene. Through interdisciplinary collaboration, the study is conducting multiproxy analyses at high resolution, including pollen, charcoal, fungal spores, geochemistry and sedimentology. Given the rarity of well-dated sediments which extend beyond the last glacial maximum in southern Africa, detailed analysis of the Mfabeni Peatland is critical for understanding past environmental change in the summer rainfall zone.

Mfabeni also forms part of the RAIN (Regional Archives for Integrated iNvestigations) project (http://www.marum.de/en/R_A_i_N.html). Other sites currently under investigation include the Mkhuze wetlands, Kosi Bay, and Lake Bhangazi.

This research is funded by a UKZN CRG Grant (2011) and NRF Thuthuka Grant (2013-2014).